The French state-owned nuclear power company EDF – which is building the new Hinkley Point C power station on the Somerset coast – announced last night that it wants to start dumping mud from the nuclear site off Penarth next summer.
As previously reported on PDN, EDF plans to dredge the mud from the sea bed adjacent to the existing two nuclear power stations [ Hinkley Point “A” and “B”] whilst it constructs a 3rd station [Hinkley Point “C”] which will alone be powerful enough to produce 7% of the UK’s total electricity.
The dredging is necessary to make way for the installation of large cooling-water units
The Cardiff Grounds – where French power firm EDF wants to dump mud from the Hinkley Point nuclear siteSubject to the necessary approvals and licences, EDF wants to begin dumping mud – as it’s dredged up at Hinkley Point – on the so-called “Cardiff Grounds” off Penarth in the summer of next year (2018). The dumping operation would continue for about 6 months.
A total of more than 200,000 cubic metres of mud would be moved from Hinkley and dumped at Cardiff Grounds – already a well-established dredger-spoil site off the Penarth shoreline which has been in use since the early 1980s.
Until now, this material has lain undisturbed on the sea-bed off Hinkley Point but concerns have been expressed that this mud will contain some radioactive material emitted over the years from the two existing nuclear plants.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council has received conflicting advice from experts as to whether this proposed operation could pose a risk to human health and marine life. In addition there is an issue as to whether the checks for radioactivity to be carried out on the mud have been – and will be – anything like stringent enough.
The Vale Scrutiny Committee has already heard a presentation from nuclear specialist Tim Deere-Jones who is not satisfied with the thoroughness of the sampling checks being carried out on the mud
Last night it was the turn of the French nuclear company EDF to make a presentation – which sought to re-assure members of the Vale Council’s Environmental Scrutiny committee that there was really nothing to worry about.
Attending the meeting were Chris Fayers, an EDF consultant described as “head of environment” and Peter Bryant, EDF s “decommissioning specialist and radioactive waste advisor”.
The two EDF experts claimed that 80% to 85% of the radioactivity in the Hinkley mud – destined for Penarth – was “naturally occurring” and only 15% to 20% of the radioactivity in that mud was attributable to “artificial” sources – i.e. Hinkley A or B or other man-made radioactive sources. The mud at the lower sample-depth showed no difference from the natural background radiation level they said.
The radioactivity levels in the mud were so low – the two experts claimed – that the nuclear mud could not be legally classed as being radioactive at all. They also claimed that the mud to be dumped was no different from the other mud already being routinely dumped at Cardiff Grounds from navigation channel dredging operations – (which isn’t subject to radioactivity checks anyway).
Peter Bryant said “This is really tiny trivial amount of radiation we are talking about” – . It was – he claimed – 10,000 times less than the amount of radiation received every year by the average airline pilot and less than what would be received by someone sunbathing on Penarth beach for 4 hours a day 365 days a year.
Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour St Augustines) said his ward was the nearest to Cardiff Grounds. He was in favour of nuclear power as a means of low-carbon energy generation and also (en passant) said he liked the idea of the proposed lagoon as well [the project which will involve building a rock wall across the sea front of Penarth from the Cardiff Barrage to a point opposite Whitcliffe Drive] . However Cllr Thomas asked for more information about the nature of the radiation present in the Hinkley mud, and whether there was a high level of Alpha particles in the sediment. Windborne particles he said could cause long-term carcinogenic problems if breathed in. “I’m quite worried” he said.
He was told that overall health effects would be no different from those arising from natural background radiation and that everything – in effect – was radioactive to some extent.
Cllr Thomas asked about the radioactive “half-life” of the A, B and G nuclear particles. He was told that “The sediment poses no risk to human health or the environment” .The levels were so low they material qualified as being “not radioactive” .
Councillors asked the experts why their findings were different from the nuclear expert Tim Deere-Jones asked them why it was necessary to dump the material in the Cardiff Grounds.
The two EDF experts asserted that it was a legal requirement and it was a condition of the licence that the material be retained within Severn Estuary – a claim which chairman Cllr Vincent Bailey and others appeared to find distinctly unconvincing.
The Cardiff Grounds – the two experts insisted – was the only suitable dumping site in the Severn Estuary because most of the rest of the estuary was protected .
The Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Vince Bailey (Conservative Dyfan Ward) asked exactly what the legislation was which had laid-down this requirement and whether this issue had been challenged .
Chris Fayers, speaking for EDF, obfuscated but said there was “no reason to challenge it – it poses no risk ” he claimed.
Andrew Robertson (Conservative Dinas Powys) drilled down into the sampling of the mud and wanted to know about the longer term effects on marine life. He was told that all this had been fully taken account of in the scientific “model”.
Cllr Sivaruby Sivaganam (Labour St Augustines) – who is employed by Labour MP Stephen Doughty – asked the experts whether they had considered dumping in another place?
Chris Fayer representing EDF said all alternatives including land based locations had been discussed and verified as “not suitable” . Cardiff Grounds was the only possible location .
“No other location was available to us” – he said and he confirmed with committee chair Vince Bailey that the company was legally required to retain the mud within the Severn Estuary zone.
The two scientists were both thanked for their presentation but it appears as if they left in their wake at least as many unanswered questions as there had been before their appearance at the committee
Faced with conflicting evidence, committee members called for a “fact check” which would enable the conflicting assertions made by both pro and anti-dumping experts to be verified.
As the committee found the reasons behind the decision to dump in Cardiff Grounds was still “unclear ” – as was the dubious legislative requirement to dump at this location – this issue is to be the subject of further research and consultation with Natural Resources Wales who would be responsible for issuing the necessary licence
An approach to Pubic Health Wales is also being considered to gain that organisation’s assessment of the proposals.