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Titanic Microbes and Request for Moratorium on “Delivery” of a Deep Nuclear Waste Dump

Image: Titanic Then and Now

Lakes Against Nuclear Dump (LAND) have sent a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to issue a Moratorium on the push for “Delivery of a Geological Disposal Facility” – Cumbria is in the frame once again with the salt water infused complex geology under the Irish Sea being touted as a “possible” site.

3rd June 2021

Dear Prime Minister,

Titanic Microbes and Request for Moratorium on

“Delivery” of a Deep Nuclear Waste Dump

We are concerned nuclear safety campaigners and we ask What have the Titanic and the plan for a “Geological Disposal Facility,” or to use the vernacular a “high level nuclear waste dump”, got in common?

Well, just like the Titanic, the deep nuclear dump would be made of the best available steel and copper and promoted as “safe” and “secure.”

As with the architect of the Titanic’s dodgy lifeboat inventory the nuclear industry has no clue as to the inventory of wastes that would go into a GDF, or of how much steel and copper would actually be required. But nevertheless the UK Government have asked an ‘expert’ to price up the cost of deep subsea mining and construction. The expert is none other than the controversial Cumbria coal mine boss Mark Kirkbride. Mr Kirkbride’s extensive remit for the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management is to advise government on “geology.. site selection and advice and moving towards GDF construction and delivery.” Mark Kirkbride has “prepared a GDF Costs Estimate Position Paper..and drafted a Position Paper on Nearshore GDF Siting..and..a subseabed GDF accessed from onshore” i.e. a deep nuclear dump in the area of the Irish Sea adjacent to Mr Kirkbride’s very own coal mine plan. Mr Kirkbride is also advising government on “Near Surface Disposal”’. We assume this means rebranding nuclear wastes (“moving waste down the hierarchy”) so that they can be dumped in available ‘near surface” holes in the ground leaving the higher activity wastes for a deep nuclear dump under the Irish Sea?

How did this self-evident conflict of interest happen?

Back in 1997 Cumbria County Council successfully opposed Government plans (NIREX) for a Rock Characterisation Facility to test out Cumbria’s complex geology for a deep nuclear dump. They did the same again in 2013 by withdrawing from the 2008 Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely (MRWS) process. But only a year later Mark Kirkbride’s West Cumbria Mining were given a free pass by the Coal Authority and the Marine Management Organisation to drill ‘exploratory’ boreholes along the West Coast of Cumbria and so achieved what NIREX and MRWS had both failed to do. Rock characterisation core samples are now stacked in boxes, like the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the £2.5 Million lottery funded former Haig Colliery Mining Museum given by the Coal Authority to Mark Kirkbride for just £1. Now Government is also back with a new plan for a GDF and once again Cumbria is in the frame. Apparently when it comes to foisting a deep dangerous nuclear dump on Cumbria No doesn’t mean No.

More immediately, the integrity of the Committee of Radioactive Waste Management who have appointed the coal boss Mark KIrkbride is in question. There is what looks to the public suspiciously like a direct conflict of interest in Mark Kirkbride’s role as advisor to government on Delivery of a nuclear waste dump and a businessman pursuing a coal mine immediately adjacent to the nuclear dump plan. There is a question of faulted integrity too in the dismissive attitude of CoRWM to those questioning this quite clear conflict of interest.

An example of this faulted integrity can be seen in the duplicitous write up of their 17th March meeting in which the Committee tasked with Delivery of a GDF has turned a member of the public’s statement of opposition to a nuclear waste dump into one of support. Under the section dealing with comments from the public, the following appears:

“44. Terry Bennett commented that considering the criteria used by *SKB, Sellafield and the nearby area may be a suitable location for a GDF due the current waste storage at Sellafield, but other areas in Cumbria do not fit the geological criteria”.

Professor Terry Bennett has responded to CoRWM saying:

” These words certainly do not represent the point I was making, which was: Based on only one criterion used by SKB (ie, proximity of current radioactive waste storage), Sellafield and the nearby area could be considered as a suitable location for a GDF. However, this and other areas in Cumbria are not suitable sites for a GDF, based on geological criteria.”

*SKB are the Swedish company trusted with the science of containment of nuclear wastes – by their own admission the science of the very long term (10,000 year plus) nuclear containment is uncertain and there are unresolved issues including fundamentally with the copper containers of nuclear waste.

Titanic Microbes

Back to the Titanic and the lesson that the world’s most glamorous ship has for those Geological Disposal Facility/ Nuclear Dump plans. The BBC reported in 2018 that “Robert Ballard, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island in Narragansett, discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. What was not widely known at the time was that the discovery only came about because of Ballard’s involvement in a secret US Navy mission to locate the wrecks of two US nuclear submarines during the Cold War. It just happened that the Titanic was found between the two wrecks.” At that time the Titanic wreck was in fairly good nick but the BBC Earth article goes on “Fast-forward 30 years..and the hull is rusting away, thanks to metal-munching bacteria. Some researchers now give the shipwreck just another 14 years before it is gone forever.” The BBC article makes no mention of the fate of the sunken nuclear submarines. There have been some articles outlining new research claiming that bacteria could “eat” radioactive waste but on closer inspection the bacteria in question merely convert the contaminated hydrogen gases produced by the nuclear waste. What the hydrogen gas is converted to isn’t clear but it could well be another gas such as methane. The hydrogen munching bacteria would not prevent the metal munching bacteria from making incursions into the nuclear waste site and releasing a tsunami of the radioactive isotopes which need to be kept separate from the biosphere into eternity. The Titanic experience shows that the integrity of nuclear waste containment under the fractured and brine saturated geology of the seabed is not “safe” or “secure.”

The Titanic’s metal munching bacteria add weight to Radiation Free Lakeland’s position that not only are there too many unresolved issues but that there are too many fundamental issues which may never be resolved. The only morally acceptable option, we believe, is to cease with the insane production of ever more dangerous radioactive wastes, place a moratorium on the GDF “Delivery” plans and to put all direct effort into containment, not disposal, above ground where the waste can be monitored and repackaged as necessary. Successive governments’ have been morally wrong to continue with an aggressive push for “Delivery of a Geological Disposal Facility” merely in order to justify a new nuclear build agenda.

The Titanic’s fate is a lesson in the hubris of science. Nuclear science presents the greatest hubris which now requires humility for the sake of life on planet earth.

We request that UK government issues a moratorium on “Delivery of a Geological Disposal Facility” for the above reasons.

Yours sincerely,

Marianne Birkby

On behalf of Lakes Against Nuclear Dump – a Radiation Free Lakeland campaign


Best Available Steel at the Time

Mark Kirkbride CEO of West Cumbria Mining’s controversial coal mine project

Cumbria County Council turn down planning permission for NIREX.

Cumbria Nuclear Project Rejected by Councillors – MRWS 2013

Haig Mining Museum handed to West Cumbria Mining for £1

*SKB are the Swedish company trusted with the science of containment of nuclear wastes – by their own admission t

New High-Resolution Video Shows The Titanic Being Eaten by Bacteria | NBC New York

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