Government AMs vote down call to halt “nuclear mud” dumping

(Title Image: via Youtube)

You probably all know about this by now, but here’s what was said yesterday afternoon.

The Motion

Jointly tabled by Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) and Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West).

The Senedd:

  • Notes the widespread public concerns relating to the disposal of dredged materials off the coast of south Wales, relating to the construction of a new power station at Hinkley.
  • Calls upon the Welsh Government to publish more detailed evidence in response to concerns regarding risks to public health and the environment, including allowing for further testing; and instruct Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to suspend the marine licence that enables the disposal activity and undertake a wide-ranging programme of engagement and consultation with local communities.

“Stop”

There was a simple message:

“Stop. Stop the current dredging going on in relation to the construction of the new Hinkley power station, stop the depositing of that dredged material on the Cardiff Grounds, and stop ignoring the concerns raised by an increasing number of citizens, and indeed elected members at all levels about what’s going on.'”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

He largely went over the conclusions of the Petition Committee inquiry (which you can read here). His concern wasn’t about the science or the relative safety or not of the mud, but the lack of consultation. The head of radiological protection at Hinkley C was also reportedly happy to carry out further testing to a deeper level following a conversation with Rhun.

He accused the Welsh Government and NRW of refusing to engage with a process that might’ve allayed concerns.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) said if he made up a story of Chinese and UK government striking a deal and dumping mud off the coast of Wales “it would be unbelievable”.

“We’ve had excuse after excuse that nothing can be done, that it’s all the fault of NRW. In Wales, we have the only Government in the world that is unable to control the very agencies it has set up, and once again, through legal action by the campaigners, we’ve found out that it’s not Natural Resources Wales who was ultimately responsible, but the Cabinet Secretary.”
– Neil McEvoy AM

He couldn’t understand how you could dispose of 320,000 tons of mud without an environmental assessment – a challenge campaigners took to court.

Precautionary Principle

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) asked EDF three times in a week to send samples for independent testing but these requests were ignored.

“Science is a wonderful thing. If two people test the same sample, they’ll come out with the same results within the margin of error. Scientists don’t make up results. It would destroy their credibility as scientists if they did make up results and those results were so out of sync with everybody else who is producing results. So, what we want is to make people believe that it’s safe. Have a peer review.”
– Mike Hedges AM

Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said the dumping should be subject to EU precautionary principles – if there’s any semblance of doubt, err on the side of caution. He also believed the mud should be subject to landfill tax at sea as it would on land.

Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) mentioned a letter with cross-party support from Barry Town Council and raised objections on their behalf, similar to those of the original petition. She said the government’s amendment would only be meaningful if there were a commitment to further public engagement.

Dangerous Precedent

Not everyone was so convinced by the arguments against the dumping.

“I think we enter and start a dangerous precedent if we begin questioning the views of scientific experts. I think we’ve seen that problem in our politics in recent times and I think it’s becoming ever more prevalent. I think we must accept that the tests that took place in 2009, 2013 and 2017 were right to find there were no radiological risk to human health or the environment.”
– Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly)

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) also said the Cardiff Grounds were chosen for a reason:

“Cardiff Grounds is the go-to place for disposal of construction waste in this area, simply because it’s on the estuary and the tide moves the material on. So, there’s absolutely no reason at all why we should be disposing of it in Scotland, in the Thames, or anywhere else. This is the most environmentally appropriate place to be disposing of construction waste.

 

“….You know, we simply have to accept that CEFAS have done their jobs on three separate occasions, and it is most distressing that some people who are anti-nuclear campaigners, as indeed am I, have whipped up concerns about something that isn’t present. “
– Jenny Rathbone AM

Scaremongering & Lies

The Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) was unequivocal in rejected the arguments of campaigners.

Separate tests in 2009, 2013 and 2017 by CEFAS – to internationally-recognised IAEA guidelines – gave the mud the all clear. EDF produced an Environmental Impact Assessment for the Hinkley C project but a “lawful decision” was made to exclude the dredging from it in 2012.

“The reason I cannot support the original motion today is because this licence has been granted lawfully, assessments have been carried out robustly, and the evidence has been assessed by experts and in line with international standards. The evidence and decision-making process has been made available, and there are no grounds for further testing or suspension of the licence.”
– Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths

Replying to the debate, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) – who supports nuclear power and Hinkley C – refused to accept the opposition’s motion would lead to an unlawful act as it otherwise wouldn’t have been tabled.

“I cannot see anything unreasonable in the motion that is before us here tonight. It is merely calling for wider consultation—and you have recognised in your own amendment that NRW have not undertaken that consultation—and, in the meantime, suspending the licence so that further testing can be undertaken. As I understand it, the licence continues until March next year.”
– Andrew RT Davies AM

Vote

I’ve been made aware that the new vote format has caused problems for the colourblind. My apologies for that. I’m working on a longer-term solution, but hopefully, the one below will be a bit clearer than the one I posted on Twitter yesterday.

If it isn’t clear, the vote on the motion was 22 for, 26 against with all Labour AMs in attendance and Kirsty Williams voting against.

A wordy government-backed amendment which, in short, said the mud was safe but NRW should undertake more public engagement was agreed by 26 votes to 22.

 


A Breakdown in Communication

As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to suggest the mud is unsafe. As someone with a scientific background, you defer to people who know more than you. Like it or not, when it comes to nuclear physics and radiation, CEFAS and the IAEA certainly do.

If they say the radiation involved is “the equivalent of eating 20 bananas a year….10,000 times less than an airline pilot’s annual dose….750 times less than the dose Pembrokeshire residents receive from radon every year” then I defer to their judgement until the safety of the mud is disproven.

Everyone working in close proximity to the mud for weeks or months at a time wouldn’t be doing so if it were a definitive risk to their own health; you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to come to that conclusion.

In fact, if Lesley Griffiths wants to end this now, she should go to either the barge or the construction site in Somerset and stand next to the mud, maybe even pick up a handful or two.

I say all this as someone who’s against nuclear energy. I don’t want the bloody thing built and I don’t like the idea of a dumping ground off the coast of our capital city either – but those battles have been lost.

There are perfectly valid technical arguments against this (raised in the original petition) – and the court case was brought on a technicality of planning law – but that was drowned out by the shouting.

The Welsh Government, EDF and Natural Resources Wales made the situation worse by refusing to order another round of independent testing which would add a tiny fraction more to the cost and timescale of a £20billion project. Of everyone who contributed to the debate yesterday, Mike Hedges of all people, was the one who made the most sense.

Labour (and the Lib Dem) rarely misjudge the mood of the public, but this time they have.

However, we now live in a political climate where people dismiss evidence they don’t like and I suspect that even if the mud were re-tested, many people would choose not to believe the results. That’s probably more dangerous than the mud.

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