Cumbria Coal Mine Awarded Fresh Licence to Drill by the Coal Authority

Offshore area no 2 is the Licence area nearest Sellafield
As can be seen from this Coal Authority image – area number 2 has very little known coal resource (blue hatch) – nevertheless the Coal Authority has just awarded West Cumbria Mining a new licence for this area which adjoins the area under consideration for a Geological Disposal Facility. Coal boss Mark Kirkbride is an “invaluable” member of the government body (CoRWM) advising on nuclear waste. His role is largely to advise on the highly mechanised digging of holes as deep as Scafell is high. We continue to urge individuals and groups opposing the coal mine to look at the bigger picture rather than focussing narrowly on climate, jobs and coking coal. To ignore the big picture (Nuclear!!) does the planet no favours. The mine can still be stopped – we will keep you posted.

the following has been sent to press…

Over the Easter period, the Coal Authority  quietly awarded the controversial Cumbrian Coal Mine new “conditional” licences.  The developer West Cumbria Mining’s original conditional licences granted in 2013 were valid for 8 years.  W.C.M  applied for a variation to their original conditional licences in January 2021.  The new applications were approved on April 13th 2022.

Nuclear safety group Radiation Free Lakeland who run the Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole campaign have lobbied tirelessly for details of the new licence applications to be released to public view.  Despite extensive correspondence between the group and the Coal Authority including an intervention by MP Tim Farron and an internal review,  all details of the licences were refused public scrutiny claiming ‘commercial sensitivity.’  Campaigners say that what can be seen is that one of the new licences awarded includes Offshore Area 2, an area of the Irish Sea Marine Conservation Zone off St Bees.  The nuclear safety group say that “according to the British Geological Survey most of this area offshore of St Bees and extending towards Sellafield has no known coal reserves”  They go on to say that “the awarding of coal licences to the developer ahead of the decision by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove suggests that the Inspector has recommended approval and smacks of the most blatant cronyism”. 

The group point out the close relationships between the former Coal Authority Director Stephen Dingle who appointed  Sir Nigel Thrift to Chair of the Committee of Radioactive Waste Management, and coal boss Mark KIrkbride, described by Sir Nigel Thrift as an “invaluable”  colleague on the Committee tasked with advising government on what to do with the UK’s growing nuclear waste problem.  

Marianne Birkby founder of Radiation Free Lakeland said: “there is only one thing worse than opening a new coal mine and that is opening a new coal mine near Sellafield whose boss is advising the government on the digging of big holes for heat generating nuclear wastes”

Licence to Drill Awarded to Cumbria Coal Mine

Map of Offshore Area No 2

Block New Coal Licences for Cumbria

PETITION delivered to the Coal Authority

Coal Mine developers, West Cumbria Mining have asked the *Coal Authority for new licences.   Do Not Rubber Stamp the Developer’s Licence to Drill.

*The Coal Authority report to the Dept of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  Kwasi Kwarteng MP is the Secretary of State


Leading Cumbrian Councillors had already reassessed their previous unanimous support for the first deep coal mine in decades in the UK and voted “No.”  Through this No vote they have voiced their opposition alongside leading academics, scientists,  politicians, the public and many organisations.  

The reasons for saying No to new licences for West Cumbria Mining are not just “compelling” as Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng MP has stated, they are overwhelming.  

There is zero need for a public inquiry at the expense of the public purse. The mine could be stopped tomorrow.  All it would take is for the Coal Authority to block the developers new applications for a Licence to Drill.  It is shocking that details of the new licence applications are being kept secret and from public scrutiny despite Freedom of Information requests from nuclear safety group Radiation Free Lakeland.


A block on the developer’s new applications for a Licence to Drill would not only save the public purse the huge expense of a public inquiry it would also send a strong message to the UK and our international neighbours that the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who are responsible for the Coal Authority, are committed to both climate and nuclear safety.  

While the significant climate impacts of this coal mine would be EXACTLY the same if this development had been proposed anywhere else in the UK, this coal mine is NOT JUST ANYWHERE in the UK.  The mine would be largely subsea off the West Coast of Cumbria, would extend to within five miles of the WORLD”S RISKIEST NUCLEAR WASTE SITE and be directly under a massive nuclear waste dump known as the Sellafield Mud Patch.  


Sellafield has been pumping eight million litres of  “low level” radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea every day. It been doing that for decades and nuclear wastes (military and ‘civil’) still continue to arrive in West Cumbria.  The nuclear waste discharge pipeline out to the Irish Sea is in constant use.  The coal mine developers say there would be “EXPECTED SUBSIDENCE” of the Irish Sea bed.   Recent reports have indicated this would most likely result in the resuspension of decades worth of Sellafield’s radioactive wastes now largely (but not completely) immobilised in the Irish Sea bed.  Radioactive wastes including plutonium would be resuspended back into the water column, to ours and to neighbouring shores.  The one thing not to do with a radioactive waste dump is disturb it.


The mine itself would be adjacent to the area being promoted as a “possible” Geological Disposal Facility for heat generating nuclear wastes under the Irish Sea.  The CEO of the coal mine Mark Kirkbride has been appointed to the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to advise government on “Delivery” of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).  The proposed coal mine  would make a void of 136 million square metres. Would this handy hole be used to dump mountains of rock spoil excavated for a GDF from neighboring rocks?   What destabilising impact would this have on the neighbouring rocks?   Is there a massive unresolvable conflict of interest at the heart of the forthcoming coal mine public inquiry?  The final decision about the climate and nuclear dump-wrecking mine will rest with the government – the same government who have appointed the coal mine boss to position of top government nuclear dump advisor (for highly active wastes).  


These questions (and more) should, but are not likely to be within the remit of a forthcoming public inquiry focussing on planning rather than key issues of governance and nuclear safety.  


The public have already paid out £millions for this coal mine, to be precise,  £2.5 Million in Heritage Lottery Funds for the Haig Colliery Museum which was then handed over to the developers for £1.  

This is a coal mine that the public would keep paying for in more than money and climate impacts – the many headed hydra of both a slow burn and immediate nuclear catastrophe are overwhelming.  

There is no credible case for this mine either on the basis of finance (no market), climate (flies in face of COP26) or arguably the most serious concern, nuclear safety (under decades of nuclear waste, undermining the geology near the world’s riskiest nuclear waste site Sellafield).




BEIS Ministerial Responsibility for the Coal Authority, BEIS also responsible for the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management where coal boss Mark Kirkbride is a key member.

“Ministerial responsibility 11. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is accountable to Parliament for the activities and performance of the Authority and it is proposed that any new Minister with responsibility for the Authority will carry out a visit to the Authority within six months of taking up appointment to learn about the role of the Authority and its functions. Typically, we would expect the chair and chief executive to meet with the minister at least annually. 12. Specific responsibilities include:  approving the Authority’s overall strategic objectives and the policy and performance frameworkwithin which the Authority operates (as set out in this framework document and associated documents  keeping Parliament informed about the Authority’s performance  approving the amount of grant-in-aid/grant/other funds to be paid to the Authority, and securing Parliamentary approval  carrying out responsibilities specified in the Act including appointments to the board, determining the terms and conditions of board members, consenting to the appointment of the, approval of terms and conditions of staff (Including pay) in accordance with the latest pay guidance  laying of the annual report and accounts before Parliament”

Sellafield Radioactive Discharge on the Irish Sea Bed directly beneath the coal mine plan and question of ‘Who is Responsible for Safety of the Discharged Nuclear Wastes?’  is subject to complaint being dealt with by the Information Commissioner

Coal Authority Licences

6th Climate Budget     note the Climate Change Committee is appointed by BEIS

British Geological Society Lack of Testing in West Cumbria

British Geological Society Lack of Testing in Bangladesh

Who is Responsible for Radioactive Waste on the Irish Sea Bed – Call from Nuclear Free Local Authorities NFLA troubled by the UK Communities Minister not ‘calling in’ the decision over a deep underground coal mine in West Cumbria

Haig Colliery and Mining Museum

Return of final meeting in a creditors’ voluntary winding up

West Cumbria Mining’s documents detailing how assets worth £millions bought for £1would be protected from creditors

24 Nov 2020 Registration of charge 071433980002, the document can be found here

The steel industry will soon have little use for Cumbrian coal

3 thoughts on “Cumbria Coal Mine Awarded Fresh Licence to Drill by the Coal Authority

  1. Dr Tim Norris

    Dear Marianne

    You are doing great work. The risk is that the UK Government rushes to allow burying of dangerous nuclear waste in inadequately prepared geological repositories, only for the dangerous nuclear waste to gradually leach out into the environment. The cost of trying to remedy such a leaching situation would be colossal. Bearing in mind that the nuclear industry is commercially non-viable (see the huge public subsidies going into EDF and the Hinkley Point C project), the risk is that the repository for the nuclear waste is done “on the cheap”, to avoid loading the nuclear industry with yet more costs that adds further to its commercial non-viability. Since political time-scales are short, Mark Kirkbride will probably have died from old age, before the aforesaid leaching occurs, so he is not too worried. The problem is that this generation is leaving a terribly damaged environmental heritage to their children and future generations.

    The UK has 139.2 tonnes of Plutonium in storage at Sellafield. This storage of Plutonium is costing £73 million per annum to administer. 139.2 tonnes of Plutonium is enough to manufacture circa 15, 000 nuclear bombs. The authorities seem to forget that there is no planet B, if we ruin the biosphere of this Earth. The UK Government has the problem that the cost of doing a clean-up at Sellafield is so huge that it is easier for successive UK governments to keep the status quo at Sellafield. This may be fuelling the Boris Johnson government to announce a new fleet of nuclear reactors to fission away the present stockpile of 139.2 tonnes of Plutonium. The only problem is that recycling Plutonium in MOX fuel creates a lot of subsidiary waste, and what better way to dispose of this subsidiary waste than by burying it beneath underneath St. Bee’s Head, conveniently close to Sellafield to avoid risky transportation of the waste.

    I fear that the reality of the economic situation will “bulldozer” through the coal mine and building of a nuclear repository in view of the other factors above. What I would say to the UK government is not to do any cheap-skate job and try to skimp on costs when building ny repository, as this could be storing up massive environmental problems for the future.

    The fact is that this 139.2 tonnes of Plutonium should never have been generated in the first place. Sodium-cooled-moderated fast breeder fission reactors, the great white hope of the 1960’s, do not work reliably or are not even remotely economically viable; all the activities at Sellafield over the years building up this stock of Plutonium was thus based on an unviable lie or misconception. The whole situation is a terrible misguided mess and the UK government and its associated “experts” do not have a clue how to get us out of this dreadful situation that they have created.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tim, sadly the narrative promoted in the press and by NGOs is focussed narrowly on the climate impacts of the mine and our pro-nuclear government are super keen to keep it that way to avoid and supress any real scrutiny or groundswell of opposition to the nuclear recklessness.


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