People of Romney Marsh invited to have their say

Nuclear power could continue to offer an economic lifeline for Romney Marsh – but it would be up to local people to decide whether or not they want to take the industry into a new era in their community.

With the continuing decommissioning of Dungeness A and generation at Dungeness B stopping in either 2018 or 2023, the Marsh community faces the loss of up to 1,000 jobs and an estimated £46 million a year from the local economy.

Although Shepway District Council has not given up the fight for a new power station at Dungeness, it wants to give local people the opportunity to comment on the possibility of Romney Marsh hosting a multi-billion pound Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility. 

The government, through the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), is implementing its policy of geological disposal and is inviting communities to find out more and ‘express an interest’ in the proposal without commitment.  West Cumbria has already expressed an interest.

A Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility would place nuclear waste in secure containers deep underground in vaults and tunnels.  At ground level there would be buildings housing research, office, transport and other facilities.

Cllr David Godfrey, who was raised on Romney Marsh and whose first job was surveying the Dungeness A Construction, said. “The council does not have a formal view about whether the Marsh should host a Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility. Our only view is that local people should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves if it is worth discussing the idea further,”

The council is currently seeking initial views from the public. Letters and newsletters have gone to homes and businesses across the Marsh, local town and parish councils are being informed and a series of exhibitions will get underway on 24 May. 

Whether the council submits an Expression of Interest to DECC on behalf of the Marsh community will depend on the feedback it gets. 

“If the people of the Marsh do not support an Expression of Interest, things will end there. If the community does support an Expression of Interest, DECC will commission experts to see whether the geology accessible from the Marsh is potentially suitable. If it is and the people of the Marsh are still interested in the proposal, the council would help set up a partnership of local organisations to take the lead,” said Cllr Godfrey.
Editors’ Notes:

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1. Geological disposal
Geological disposal is supported by the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Geological Society. It is also backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and is the preferred option of most countries with significant quantities of radioactive waste. These countries include Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the USA and Sweden. Organisations such as Greenpeace, though, have their doubts about geological disposal.

2. The rules of the game
The search for a disposal facility began in 2008 following publication of the Government’s White Paper:  ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: A Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal’.
This document is quite clear about a number of issues that will be of interest to local residents:

  • It does not want to force the facility upon a community. It is up to local residents to decide.
  • Just talking to the Government about hosting the site does not commit anyone to it.
  • Although a local authority like Shepway District Council can take the first steps in opening up discussions with the Government, it will be up to the local community to take them forward.
  • The community can pull out of the process at any stage, right up until the start of construction.
  • It is likely that there would be only one such facility in the country. Three Councils in West Cumbria have already jointly expressed an interest in hosting it

3. Safety first
No facility would be built unless it could meet demanding safety requirements.
The body responsible for developing the plans for the Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility would be the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Its proposals would be scrutinised by separate regulators, including the Office for Nuclear Regulation (an agency of the Health & Safety Executive) and the Environment Agency.
They would assess the plans against a range of criteria including environmental protection, security, transportation and safety. Only if the regulators were satisfied with the proposals would they be allowed to go ahead.
The facility would also need to comply with all relevant international laws including reporting to the European Commission.

4. What’s in it for us?
If it went ahead, the Romney Marsh Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility would be a long-lived, multi-billion pound engineering project.
It would draw on the skills of both the underground construction and nuclear industries, providing skilled employment for hundreds of people over many decades. These would be well-paid, long term jobs that would help offset the loss of employment from the closure of the power stations.

In recognition of the essential service that the host community would be providing, the Government would put in place a community benefits package. It is impossible to give precise details at this stage but the types of things that could be considered include:

  • Improved local skills training and education
  • Improved infrastructure, housing and recreational facilities
  • Better transport infrastructure
  • Investment in healthcare
  • Environmental improvements.

It would be up to the community to negotiate the exact package. It is impossible at this stage to put a value on it but in other countries around the world communities hosting similar facilities have enjoyed benefits packages worth many millions of pounds.

5. Some questions can’t yet be answered
We are at the very earliest stage of what could turn out to be a decades long process even before construction starts -  so there are a lot of questions that simply can’t be answered yet, hence the staged nature of the process, with ongoing right of withdrawal. We don’t know, for example, where on Romney Marsh any Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility might be located.
We can’t even say if there is anywhere reasonably accessible from a surface site on Romney Marsh that might have suitable geology to host such a facility. It is also much too early to have more than just initial ideas of how the facility would be laid out or how large it would be. All these things would be investigated in more detail if the community decided it wanted to explore further the idea of hosting a Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility.

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