Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Council says no to dumping of nuclear waste

Newry Mourne and Down District Council has confirmed its absolute opposition to a Geological Disposal Facility for nuclear waste being hosted in the region. 

In a statement to The Examiner following last Monday’s unanimous vote to write to Westminster saying it will never consent to hosting a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) “in our Council area or any part of Northern Ireland,” – a spokesperson reiterated the council’s stance to conclusions made from the National Geological screening for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) by Radioactive Waste Management, which suggests that parts of Newry, Mourne and Down District and other areas in Northern Ireland might be suitable for a GDF.

The Council says it will write to the minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy stating its position and it is calling on the other 10 councils in the North to “take a similar position and equally write to the minister.”

Fears over potential radioactive waste disposal in the council district escalated after a social media post by environmental group, Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment (R.A.R.E) revealed a recent video placed on the Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) website which includes Northern Ireland (as well as regions of England and Wales) as generically suitable for a GDF – a deep underground repository to store much of the UK’s high and intermediate level radioactive waste from the past 70 years of the nuclear cycle for hundreds of thousands of years.  

The revelation led to a public outcry, with residents and environmentalists venting their anger online and prompting an emergency Notice of Motion opposing any radioactive plans to be proposed by Downpatrick SDLP Councillor John Trainor at Monday’s full Council meeting.  

Questions have arisen however, as to how a consultation on future government plans to dump the nuclear waste material in the region was approved by councillors last year.  The consultation from the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was approved by councillors in March 2018 after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) made the Council aware of the survey.

Dr Amy Shelton outlined areas being considered to host radioactive waste in a series of videos

 In its statement to The Examiner, a Council spokesperson said the council was consulted in March 2018 about how any future consultation with communities on the issue would take place, “and specifically not on whether the Council would wish to have radioactive waste disposal within its district.”

“This consultation response was passed by Full Council on 9 April 2018 and to date the Council has not received any feedback from the UK government department regarding it’s consultation form completion”, continued the statement, adding that,

“The Council is not aware of any proposal current or historical to dispose of such waste in our district.  The motion as detailed above makes it clear that it would not be supported by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.”

Furious campaigners have demanded that political representatives better brief the public on such plans, whilst thousands have signed a petition against any such radioactive waste facility in the district, with campaign groups across the country angrily opposing the plans online.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) – of which Newry Mourne and Down District Council is a member – said it fully supports the resolution passed by the Council opposing a deep radioactive waste repository coming to its area, “or any other part of Northern Ireland for that matter.”

“Whilst the Northern Ireland Government has not sat for over 2 years at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Executive has supported ‘geological disposal’ of radioactive waste as a policy for some time and theoretically a Northern Ireland Council or community could express an interest to host such material,” said an NFLA spokesperson, adding that 

“RWM admit though that Northern Ireland is the ‘region least likely’ to host such a repository.”

The NFLA say it has always found it “peculiar” that the Northern Ireland Executive has supported the policy,  given that Northern Ireland “is not an appropriate location for the long-term deep-underground storage of radioactive waste,” due to various reasons, including that it has never hosted a civil nuclear power station and that due to its location, waste would have to be transported by sea or air – both of which would be too hazardous and expensive.

“In the NFLA’s view, there is little likelihood or benefit for any Northern Ireland Council wishing to express an interest,” added the spokesperson, who said NFLA supports Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s call to the other 10 Councils of Northern Ireland to also publicly state that they would not express an interest to host an underground repository. 

NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair, SDLP Councillor John Trainor said he was pleased that the Council “have made it absolutely clear that it will never express an interest to host a deep underground radioactive waste repository.”

“I call on the other 10 Councils in Northern Ireland to take the same decision and to also consider working with the NFLA to support ways for a long-term resilient, safe and sustainable policy for radioactive waste management, nuclear policy and renewable energy alternatives to nuclear power. Northern Ireland is clearly not an appropriate location for such a facility.”