Petition against tests of geology under sea

By Gemma Nettle   |   Reporter   |
Tuesday 10th May 2022 3:45 pm
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A petition to stop the testing of deep geology under the Irish Sea has attracted hundreds of signatures in its first few days.

UK Government organisation Nuclear Waste Services plans to test the geology offshore of Copeland in western Cumbria, but the blasts from the seismic air guns used will have effects across the Irish Sea.

It is looking at ways to dispose of hot nuclear wastes and under the Irish Sea is being ‘actively considered’, according to petition starter Radiation Free Lakeland, which runs the campaign Lakes Against Nuclear Dump (LAND). Seismic testing is preparation for the ‘delivery of a geological disposal facility’.

Under the Irish Sea would be used to ‘dispose’ of nuclear wastes and this is what the seismic testing would be assessing, says LAND.

An announcement of the work came from the Mid and South Copeland community partnership website on April 20, which said: ‘Surveys are due to take place off the coast of Mid and South Copeland for around three to four weeks this summer to deepen understanding about the nature of the deep rocks beyond the coast.’

Marine geophysical surveys use sound energy to map geological structures under the seabed, so a ship in the Irish Sea will fire blasts of sound from air guns every 10 seconds for four weeks or more. This sound penetrates deep under the ocean floor to relay information about the geology.

The sound in the ocean from airguns can travel thousands of miles from the source and can cause severe problems to whales, seals and dolphins particularly, which is what petitioners are taking issue with.

Effects from blasting, can cause deafness to marine life and impair ability to navigate and find food. The Irish Sea is currently a Marine Protected Zone because of its wealth of biodiversity and vulnerable species.

There was no public consultation or vote on the matter but Nuclear Waste Services, Radioactive Waste Management and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority went ahead with the plan.

LAND said: ‘The Irish Sea area is already burdened with waste from several decades of Sellafield’s nuclear reprocessing discharges. Radioactive waste particles in their thousands are routinely found on Cumbrian beaches by the regulators and by citizen scientists.

‘This means that any meaningful monitoring of a subsea nuclear dump would be impossible as the existing radioactive pollution would mask any new leakage from the subsea vaults of very hot nuclear wastes.

‘Seismic testing to test the complex subsea geology for a nuclear dump is therefore unjustifiable.

‘Despite decades of the nuclear industry operating in this area the Irish Sea is still miraculously biodiverse. The Irish Sea’s marine wildlife needs time and space to recover from industrial pollution. Instead it is due to be deafened and damaged by airgun blasting and have a nuclear dump embedded beneath.’

Shearwater GeoServices, which specialises in oil and gas exploitation, has been contracted to carry out the seismic survey in July and August.

Chris Eldred, senior project manager for geosphere characterisation at Nuclear Waste Services, said: ‘These surveys will support our assessment of the deep geology and its potential suitability to dispose of radioactive waste for the long term.

‘We are committed to environmental protection and will work to minimise the impact of these surveys on marine life by following relevant UK guidance.

‘We are obtaining all necessary permissions and the surveys will be closely monitored to identify and avoid any potential impacts in line with industry best practice.

‘The information we obtain from these surveys will enable us to better understand whether a location could host a GDF and in turn will help inform discussions with communities.’

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