OPEN LETTER TO Baroness Worthington
Infrastructure Planning (Radioactive Waste Geological Disposal Facilities) Order 2015
Motion to Consider
Tuesday 10th March 2015
Dear Baroness Worthington,
I watched on in horror as you championed the removal of local authority’s right to decide over the disposal of nuclear waste in their communities. I didn’t know who you were at the time, and your position of the matter left me thinking perhaps you were a stakeholder in some nuclear power supply chain company.
I was dismayed to learn that you used to be a key member of Friends of the Earth. Further research shows that you have a background in environmentalism and appear on the surface to be concerned with climate change. So I ask myself, why would someone with your background be a champion of nuclear power? And why would you champion the disposal of nuclear waste underground at levels where groundwater circulates? And why would you want this done without allowing the full scrutiny of councillors and planning officers? Why would you prefer to remove power from locally elected representatives and place decisions in the hands of one person, creating a potentially corruptible situation?
Nuclear power is not a low carbon energy source. There is a wide range of data on the carbon footprint of nuclear waste, much of which is industry rhetoric. Benjamin Sovacool’s review found the average carbon footprint of nuclear power to be 66 gCO2/KWh, breaching the Committee on Climate Change’s recommended limits. Keith Barnham’s article in Ecologist has more detail:
The fact is the carbon cost of decommissioning and waste handling is difficult to estimate, and if the Sellafield budget is anything to go by, carbon costs could spiral. Building geological disposal facilities to handle waste would not necessarily reduce these costs. Vitrification and construction are not low carbon pursuits. What would the carbon cost of a water contamination event be? The human cost would be far greater.
Then there is the issue of uranium mining, a carbon costly enterprise. As this finite source depletes, ever lower quality of uranium ore will be sought, further increasing the carbon price tag. Fast breeder reactors technologies that could avoid some of the uranium ore issues are still a long way off, and would still produce waste our grandchildren would have to worry about (better than our grandchildren’s, children’s, children’s etc., but still a problem). The cost of uranium would really have to plummet to make this option viable. At what point on the carbon bad karma spectrum would this occur? Thorium reactor technology is fraught with issues, and is a very long way of becoming a practical reality. What could we achieve in the genuine renewable energy field in that time?
The amount of subsidies the government wishes to funnel into the greedy jaws of nuclear power is quite frightening, locking us into ridiculous contracts for decades and guaranteeing fuel poverty in the future. Who knows what the energy market will look like in ten, twenty years? If renewable technology received the proper support, and that includes people like you ceasing to defend the nuclear industry that could cripple it, we could be online to meet our carbon targets. Cheerleading for new builds that take years to get off the ground, even if you do believe they are low carbon (when the independent data clearly suggests otherwise), could delay action on climate change that could be happening right now. What if those nuclear energy subsidies were instead promised to the solar, wind, tidal, anaerobic digestion and retrofitting industries? Wouldn’t that be a far better way to tackle climate change?
But back to radioactive waste, which is a sticky issue. We have to deal with what we have, but most environmentalists and humanitarians agree that adding to that pile is madness. Why would someone with your credentials think otherwise? You have risen to a position of great power. You stood in the Moses room as someone who is known for their actions in protecting the environment, and damned it by championing nuclear power and nuclear waste dumping and stressing that it was a nationally significant issue that extends beyond the lifetimes of the people living in the area. You spoke about a pendulum of nuclear regulation and how radiation is ‘natural’. Background radiation is natural. Mining ores, processing, enriching etc., is most definitely not natural and comparing the two through insinuation is immoral. How is reducing regulation ever a good move for protecting public health and safety?
You may be thinking right now that I am part of a public that is somewhat hysterical about radiation and its effects. I have a PhD in cancer biology and have studied the response of cells to irradiation. I’m not frightened of a bit of background radiation, but I do have grave concerns about burying highly radioactive nuclear waste underground where it has to stay isolated for hundreds of thousands of years, without any of it ending up in our water supplies. The one thing we know for certain about deep hydrogeology is that we don’t know all that much about it. How can you guarantee the safety of our water supplies, and those of our children and their descendants? I suggest you read the ‘Rock Solid?’ review produced by GeneWatch on behalf of Greenpeace on geological disposal if you have not done so already.
I also very concerned about climate change, and quite aside from the radioactive waste issue, I am opposed to nuclear new builds due to their carbon emission consequences.
I would urge you to rethink your position on nuclear new builds and geological disposal on both pragmatic and ethical grounds.
Dr Becky Martin