Welsh Labour sells out its citizens to let radioactive mud dumping continue
By Linda Pentz Gunter
On October 10, the Welsh Assembly had the opportunity to cast a vote that would have protected the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of the people of Wales. But instead, on that day, the Welsh Assembly members of the UK Labour Party marched into the Senedd with blinkers around their eyes and plugs in their ears.
They could have halted the colonialist and medically dangerous dumping of 320,000 tonnes of radioactive mud dredged from the English Hinkley C nuclear construction site that has been delivered daily (and sometimes by night; see headline photo) to the “Cardiff Grounds” disposal site less than two miles from the Welsh coast. (The first round of dumping has now ended but it is due to resume in January 2019.)
That mud has been inadequately tested for radioactive isotopes. Fishermen work those waters. The seas move mud back to land and into rivers and streams. The winds blow spray onto shore. It is beyond essential to have 100% certainty about what is in that mud. Everything is at stake here: health, jobs, wildlife, the marine environment.
In halting this possibly illegal polluting of Welsh waters — which is being done without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and with flimsy unscientific assurances from the nuclear company itself — the Assembly Members would at minimum have bought some time to conduct proper, full spectrum testing. More than 100,000 people signed a petition urging them to do just that.
There was a greater cause in play as well. The dredge and dump effort is to clear the way for site construction at Hinkley C. Stopping it would have resulted in a welcome delay to the two-reactor project on the Somerset coast that is both unnecessary and wildly expensive. The two huge French reactors will pose an existential threat not only from a possible accident, but from the routine radioactive discharges that have shown (in more than 60 studies) to increase the risk of leukemia among children living nearby.
But the Labour Party AMs would hear none of this. Literally. And so the vote on a cross-party motion brought by Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, calling on the Welsh Government to suspend the marine license allowing the dumping, went down in favor of continued dumping, by 26-22.
That the vote happened at all, and was so close, is testament to the efforts of Welsh citizens, Independent AM, Neil McEvoy, and Cian Ciarán, a celebrity in Wales who is the keyboardist for the band Super Furry Animals, all of whom have been leading the charge on this effort, often under the hashtag #GeigerBay. (The old Cardiff docklands were nicknamed Tiger Bay.)
The decision by members of the Assembly to call a vote came after Ciarán withdrew an injunction in the high court to halt the dumping. That preliminary hearing forced EDF to produce documentation that proved no EIS had been done, a welcome revelation since pursuing the case further in court might have become prohibitively costly for the musician.
Al Jazeera covered the issue just prior to the legal challenge. Their story can be viewed in this video below.
The fact that the motion to halt the dumping was brought by the Conservatives on the right and the pro-independence Plaid Cymru on the left, further confirmed Labour’s isolation — and ignorance — on this issue.
Beyond the disappointing outcome was that the pro-dump position was articulated so strongly, and misguidedly, by women Assembly Members. It is women, and their children, who are the most vulnerable to health damage when exposed to radiation. The so-called “safe” levels of exposure (there is no “safe” dose according to the US National Academy of Sciences, so this is about “as low as reasonably achievable”) are predicated on the dose a robust twenty something young man can withstand. But that same dose could do fatal harm to a fetus or newborn baby. Women should care about this. Everyone should.
Welsh cabinet secretary for energy, Lesley Griffiths, even stooped to name-calling, a sure sign that she has no valid arguments, accusing dumping opponents of “scaremongering” and even calling them “liars” — a slur that is usually forbidden in the Senedd. We have of course heard that tired “scaremongering” cheapshot for years whenever we produce empirical data that expose the nuclear industry’s own lies.
The people who oppose the radioactive mud dumping are not scaremongers, Ms. Griffiths. They are scared, and rightly so. They are willing to ask questions and demand answers. They want guarantees that they and their families are being protected. Griffiths did nothing to reassure them, but everything possible to denigrate and betray them.
Griffiths also urged Assembly members to “support science.” The trouble is that the science hasn’t actually been done. It is in fact the dumping opponents who have the science on their side, who have presented the science, and who have been rebuffed at every turn. They had to use FOIA to get at the “scientific” documentation provided by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and even then some of it was redacted. If it is such sound science, why was it kept from them, and from independent expert eyes like those of marine scientist, Tim Deere-Jones?
The sampling conducted by CEFAS on behalf of Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government, explored no deeper than 0 to 5 cm, whereas research shows that radionuclides deposited over such a length of time (50 years of discharges at Hinkley A and B) would be found at higher concentrations at depths below 5cm. But no one looked.
Further, the limited testing considered only a handful out of the possible 50 or more radionuclides that might be present in the mud, with serious omissions, including plutonium and uranium. It is logical to assume the presence of plutonium and uranium, argues emeritus professor of physics at Imperial College, Keith Barnham, in an interview, because it was he and colleagues who, in 1985, conducted a definitive study of the amount of plutonium produced in the civil Magnox reactors in the UK.
“EDF and the environment agency have not tested the mud with the type of detector that is sensitive to the amount of plutonium that’s there,” said Barnham. “They have used gamma ray detectors and plutonium does not decay by gamma radiation and is not radioactive by gamma radiation. Our calculations suggest there could be sizable amounts of plutonium there because of accidents in the cooling ponds when Hinkley A was running at very fast rates to produce plutonium.”
Dumping the mud into Cardiff Bay won’t mean the radioactive isotopes present in it stay put, either. As Deere-Jones, who led one of the petition drives, explains: “While sedimentary material is initially likely to disperse, studies prove that it later re-concentrates in coastal and estuarine mudflats and saltmarshes, and is also available for sea-to-land transfer during onshore winds and coastal flooding. We note the absence of research on the fate of such radioactivity in South Wales inshore waters.”
Ciarán and other activists have been trying to pull together a small flotilla of boats to blockade the dump site, an action that would be legal they say. With breathtaking hypocrisy, Griffiths called the plan “dangerous.” Try not to laugh out loud. More dangerous than inhaling plutonium? More dangerous than childhood leukemia? And more dangerous than fishing the estuary — which is precisely what happens at that very same site every year. Does Ms. Griffiths propose to prevent fishermen from going about their business?
Cardiff Central Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, who says she is “anti-nuclear,” told a colleague of mine she would happily have the dredged mud dumped into her garden.
While it is tempting to say “bring it on”, we who do have science on our side would never advise such a thing given the risks. Why would Ms. Rathbone? Is she really so determined to do the bidding of the French government (because that is who EDF, the Hinkley contractor, is) and Westminster that she would risk the health and safety of her own family? (Can you hear the chorus of “scaremonger!” rising again?) But look up the science! An inhaled particle of plutonium IS deadly. As Barnham said, “the alpha radiation that [plutonium particles] emit is very short range. That’s one reason they don’t like detecting it, it’s not easy to find, so you’d say it wasn’t very radioactive. But inhale one of those particles into your lungs, it will cause cancer.”
Not to look for it isn’t “supporting science”. It’s criminally irresponsible.
McEvoy, who has been leading the campaign in the Assembly to stop the dredging, said after the vote that “The Nuclear Mud affair is the most shocking thing that has ever crossed my desk in politics. It is unbelievable.”
The backlash against Welsh Labour picked up rapidly after the vote, re-stoking the fires of Welsh independence. Labour is viewed as “a branch office of London” by many in Wales who are all too aware of their centuries-long treatment as a colony, often being made to feel like the last remnant of a lost empire.
“Utterly disgraceful behaviour by Welsh Labour,” wrote nuclear policy expert and parliamentary advisor, Dr. David Lowry, who is Welsh, to a group of his colleagues. “Shameful, unforgivable attack on the health of the people of south east Wales by their own elected representatives. Unbelievable unprincipled unacceptable sellout to nuclear big business.”
The backlash continued on Twitter.
“This has to be the biggest boost for @Plaid_Cymru in years,” tweeted Michael Elias. “Anyone with a conscience can’t vote Labour in Wales.”
Tweeted Teyrnas Gwent: “The 26-22 defeat in the Senedd today over #nuclearmud is like the Miners Strike Part II. Energy policies decided outside Wales, local people left at the mercy of EDF and the Labour Party as useful as a chocolate teapot. Wake up Wales.”
Wales probably has. There is a veritable “army of bold hippopotarmy” ready to let Westminster, the Senedd, EDF, CEFAS and the lamentably misnamed Natural Resources Wales know that:
Mud, mud, nuclear mud
There’s nothing quite like it for poisoning the blood
So demonstrate, demonstrate!
And tell all who’ll listen we want
NO MORE NUCLEAR MUD!
Headline photo shows a Belgian dredger dumping Hinkley mud into Cardiff Bay in a still taken from drone footage featured on Wales Online.
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