Factors Affecting The Proposed Nuclear Dump At Theddlethorpe
August 1st 2021
News came out recently, leaked to BBC's Look North, of plans to put a nuclear dump at the former gas terminal in Theddlethorpe. This dump would be extensive, extending 2km down to bury huge quantities of nuclear waste, with the aim of being operational for 100 years. The waste within would be radioactive for up to 100,000 years. It would be the only underground storage facility for nuclear waste in the UK; all the others are above-ground, which isn't ideal.
Details are gradually emerging about the scale of this proposal. There are a few on the government's guidance on Geological Disposal. The website states: "For planning purposes, we assume that a GDF will be available to receive the first waste in the 2040s. Filling a GDF with waste and then closing it, once full, will then run into the next century."
The waste in question is "higher activity", so more like the material from power stations, rather than material from hospital settings such as X-rays.
If this makes you uneasy, you're not alone. Many people are already expressing their concern about it in various ways. At the time of writing, over 2000 people had signed the petition started by Jaki Lucas against a Nuclear waste dump at Theddlethorpe.
What considerations will sway the decision?Biff Vernon has considered some of the factors that will influence the final decision. He has focused on whether the geology is suitable, and whether the site is suitable for a major industrial development, given its poor rail links.
I'm not familiar enough with geology to comment on whether the site is suitable, or whether somewhere else in the UK would make a better site. I'll leave that to specialists, and hopefully we will hear more about this in future.
As far as industrialising Theddlethorpe, this dump would almost certainly involve creating a rail link for the waste, as one doesn't exist at present. A link for the waste doesn't mean a rail track for passengers would necessarily be built. We also need more details about the extent of what would need to be built above ground.
However, there are also other things that will determine whether this nuclear dump goes ahead here, or elsewhere.
The political dimensionMy first reaction on hearing these plans was one of horror. Nuclear contamination of ground water, or leakage as the high level waste is transported around the country, doesn't exactly sit well with anyone. It flies in the face of the sense of safety and security that everyone wants and expects of their homes and communities.
So I would expect these proposals to be deeply unpopular. I'd expect them to be unpopular with any community, no matter where it's sited.
The government's site talks about investing a lot of money into communities involved in the process, in the region of "£1 million a year per community". However, those figures are quite outdated, coming from the era of the coalition government, so what is on the table now, and whether that will be the costs of extensive consultation and explanations, or bribes for communities to get involved, isn't entirely clear.
There will probably be incentives, and talk of the jobs that will be created if this goes ahead. So, while public opinion appears to be overwhelmingly against the dump, there remains the possibility that Radioactive Waste Management could win some people over with economic incentives.
Your move, RWM.
Alternative uses for the siteMeanwhile, other uses have been proposed for the gas terminal. Cllr Tony Howard has previously suggested a desalination plant.
Neptune Energy have put forward plans, under the catchy name "DelpHYnus", for a blue hydrogen production facility on the site. Blue hydrogen is when some of the carbon is taken out of gas, creating a fuel that is lower in carbon emissions. The DelpHYnus plans also include carbon capture and storage.
So there are other possible uses for the site which could be explored further.
FloodingClimate models showing rising sea levels as a result of global warming commonly show swathes of the Lincolnshire coast under water, or at least below sea level, within the next 100 years. This perhaps means Theddlethorpe isn't the ideal location for a nuclear dump.
However, there is another dimension, and that is how flood defences are provided for. Back in 2015 I was involved in a group at the district council scrutinising how the area dealt with flood defences, and there were aspects that were far from comforting. Currently the government prioritises really good (and extremely expensive) flood defences for areas that have strategic importance. Population levels also play a part. What doesn't count heavily towards the government's calculations is farmland. There is very little weighting given to the importance of farmland when it comes to what the government will pay millions of pounds to protect from flooding.
The beach nourishment that takes place annually on the coast is extremely expensive, and it's reaching the end of its usefulness as a way of sustainably protecting the coast from flooding. Beach nourishment is when they pump sand from further out at sea, and spread it onto the beach to build it up so it's nice and sandy. This keeps the sea defences from eroding. The Environment Agency has been looking at rock groynes as a possible alternative, or perhaps changing the the way the beaches are nourished. Whatever is done, the cost is eye-watering. More money than could easily be raised by taxing East Lindsey's rural population.
Now, the Theddlethorpe gas terminal was strategic infrastructure. It's the kind of thing the government wanted to protect. Return it to farmland, and it loses its strategic importance, and therefore its weighting in the government's calculations about where they will spend the most money to build really effective coastal flood defences.
There is a strong argument that we should consider our food production as strategically important. Particularly in these times of Brexit-induced shortages and during the pandemic, it's clear we won't always be able to easily bring in food from other countries. But, that's not how the government sees flood defences right now - and that's a political choice.
Does that leave the people of East Lindsey with the unpalatable choice of accepting a nuclear dump on their doorstep, or being threatened with flooding? If so, it really is unacceptable.
However, I wanted to highlight a few other issues beyond the geology of the area that will affect the decision on Theddlethorpe's future.
The way the County Council sat on information about these plans instead of sharing it with residents is deeply concerning. We still don't have the full details about them. But what has come out so far is alarming.