Campaigners opposed to plans for a new UK coal mine believe it will be a ‘Trojan horse’ for a nuclear waste disposal facility.
Woodhouse Colliery will be Britain’s first deep coal mine in 30 years if it is sunk under the Irish Sea off the coast of Whitehaven.
But campaigners from Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole fear that the coal mine is a Trojan horse for the UK’s plans for a nuclear waste disposal facility in the area immediately adjacent.
However, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Radioactive Waste Management subsidiary insists a coal mine is simply not suitable as a site for a geological disposal facility for radioactive waste.
Isle of Man Newspapers reported in January that an undersea nuclear disposal facility could be built within eight miles of Manx territorial waters.
The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has relaunched its search for the site of a geological disposal facility.
One option that is being considered is to build it under the Irish Sea up to 22km out from Sellafield.
This would bring it within six to eight miles of the island’s own 22km (12 nautical mile) territorial limit.
West Cumbria Mining’s chief executive Mark Kirkbride has been appointed to the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, the body charged with advising the UK government on the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste.
This week Mr Kirkbride gave a Zoom presentation on the development of a deep geological disposal facility for nuclear waste in the UK, a talk hosted by the Science Discovery Group.
Cumbria County Council had originally backed the plans for the new coal mine but is now reviewing its decision.
The UK government has now agreed to hold a public inquiry.
Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole campaigner Marianne Birkby, founder of Radiation Free Lakeland, said: ‘The grass roots and entirely voluntary nuclear safety group fear that this coal mine is a Trojan horse to help deliver the UK’s nuclear waste disposal development plan.
‘In our view as nuclear safety campaigners, the government couldn’t care two hoots about accusations of climate hypocrisy as long as they get the ducks lined up for a deep geological disposal facility for nuclear waste.’
Campaigners are urging the Manx government to lobby against the controversial coal mine.
The £165m colliery will produce about 2.5 million tonnes a year of coking coal used as fuel for blast furnaces in the steel industry.
Supporters say the site will create hundreds of jobs and provide long-term financial benefits for the UK.
But opponents say the mine could disturb decades of discharged radioactive wastes from Sellafield on the Irish Sea bed.
The public inquiry is expected to take place later this year.
But Simon Hughes, community engagement and siting director for Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, insisted: ‘On behalf of RWM, I would like to make it clear that there are absolutely no plans to consider coal mines for the geological disposal of radioactive waste, because they are simply not suitable.
‘We are responsible for developing a deep geological disposal facility in the UK, where higher-activity radioactive waste will be disposed of, based on consent from a willing community together with a suitable site.
‘A GDF will be a purpose-built, highly engineered facility designed specifically for radioactive waste. RWM will assess the suitability of any potential GDF location in a comprehensive evaluation process.
‘The design and safety features must meet the stringent requirements of independent UK nuclear and environmental regulators. A coal mine would not meet these requirements.
‘Initial search areas in Cumbria will be identified by the recently established working groups in Copeland and Allerdale. We anticipate that more working groups will form in due course, elsewhere in the country.
‘The site selection process will stretch over a number of years and the decision to go ahead at a prospective location will ultimately be subject to a test of public support. It will only proceed if the surrounding community is willing.’