Whitehaven Harbour Runs Red with Mine Water Pollution While Coal Mine Boss Gloats About “Multimillion pound Funding” for New Deep Mine (coal – the nuclear dump next door- unless!)

Chris Packham was filming in Whitehaven today – I wonder if he mentioned any of this?

Sent today…

An Open Letter to the Coal Authority (an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero). and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

Dear Coal Authority and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office,

The first deep coal mine in the UK in 30 years announced on May 16th that “we have now successfully closed out a new multimillion pound funding package” What they fail to reveal is where the “multimillion pound” investment is coming from. The initial millions largely spent on public relations and investigative boreholes came from EMR Capital whose owner Owen Hegarty is now a director of West Cumbria Mining. Owen Hegarty also has coal mines in Siberia which have been bankrolled to the tune of tens of millions of pounds both by the Russian State and by Russian equity bank Baring Vostok whose investors have just left prison in Russia after fraud sentences. This all begs the question given the UK Government’s current war footing with Russia why hasn’t the Foreign Office stepped in to investigate West Cumbria Mining’s clear links with Russian State investment through Owen Hegarty?

West Cumbria Mining’s update also fails to mention that their conditional licence from the Coal Authority lapsed in October 2022. The Coal Authority have told us that they have not received a new licence application. The fact that the Coal Authority are even considering giving a new licence to drill to West Cumbria Mining is breathtaking given that the House of Lords called for a ban on any new licences being issued for coal mines. The Coal Authority is also now tasked with looking into the ongoing and seemingly unstoppable pollution pouring into Whitehaven harbour from historic mines which have been newly activated by disturbance. West Cumbria Mining’s extensive borehole and water flushing investigations above Whitehaven cannot be ruled out in part or in whole as a catalyst for Whitehaven Harbour running red with a toxic burden of metals and other pollutants. The honeycomb of mines in Whitehaven includes the Anhydrite mine which West Cumbria Mining wanted to dewater of its uranium, acids and metal contaminated water in order to use this as access to the sub-sea area off Whitehaven. The Environment Agency said this would be too dangerous to marine life. Another bizarre twist in the tale is that the coal mine CEO who wanted to dangerously dewater the old Anhydrite mine into the Irish Sea is also tasked (by the same government department who sponsor the Coal Authority) with advising Government on investigation techniques, construction and costings for a sub-sea nuclear dump euphemistically called a Geological Disposal Facility. This investigation includes seismic blasting of the Irish Sea which has already taken place over the heads of the public despite a petition of over 50,000 signatures.

We urge the Foreign Office to fully investigate West Cumbria Mining’s Russian connections through EMR Capital and Owen Hegarty.

We urge the Coal Authority to honour the House of Lords call for a ban on any new coal mine licences being issued in the UK. That an earthquake inducing new coal mine should have even been considered so close to Sellafield is utterly reckless with public safety – this could put climate concerns on the back foot.

We urge an inquiry into the dark cronyism surrounding the appointment of the CEO of West Cumbria Mining, Mark Kirkbride, to the position of Government advisor on Geological Disposal of High Level Nuclear Wastes, his coal mine lies between the nuclear dump target areas of Mid Copeland and Allerdale.

Yours sincerely

Marianne Birkby

Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole – a Radiation Free Lakeland campaign.

WCM May Updatehttps://www.westcumbriamining.com/wcm-website-news-update-may-2023/

Owen Hegarty new director of WCM https://www.extractiveindustries.co.uk/west-cumbria-mining-appoints-owen-hegarty-as-director/

Funder and now Director of WCM Owen Hegarty Bankrolled by Russian State and Baring Vostok https://www.smh.com.au/business/russians-take-a-large-slice-of-tigers-realm-coal-20140323-35bkq.html

Baring Vostok Fraud Sentences https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2023/03/24/baring-vostok-investors-leave-russia-after-fraud-sentences-expire-a80603

Calls by the House of Lords to ban any new licences being awarded to West Cumbria Mining.


Mark Kirbride Government Nuclear Dump advisor https://www.gov.uk/government/people/mark-kirkbridg



Shhhh – don’t mention the Russian connection. We all hate Russia – Don’t we?

Russian Government has a large slice of West Cumbria Mining New Director’s Coal Pie.

Our government are ignoring calls for diplomatic negotiations with Russia to take precedent over increasingly dangerous (and lucrative) war games while endorsing developments with ties to the Russian government.  Makes no sense at all unless viewed through the business as usual at any cost lens.

Just a week after government approved the first deep coal mine in over 30 years in the UK,  a new director was appointed to West Cumbria Mining.

Owen Hegarty appointed to West Cumbria Mining on 16th December 2022 is no ordinary Director.  He is founder and Executive Chairman of EMR Capital, a private equity company who put up the £Millions to get West Cumbria Mining started.  

In December 2020 the headline in Financial Review boldly asserted “There’s never been a better time to mine coal in Siberia” “Mining industry veteran Owen Hegarty says his Siberian coking coal venture is poised to capitalise on China’s blacklisting of Australian coal, as it embarked on an exquisitely timed $43.5 million fundraising on Wednesday. ASX-listed Tigers Realm Coal has been mining on Russia’s Pacific coast for three years”  

So the new Director is an opportunist then – nothing wrong with that you might say.  

However this opportunist has no qualms about accepting money from governments.  In the case of Owen Hegarty’s Tigers Realm Coal, the Russian government: “The certificates of residency in the ADZ provide Tigers Realm with valuable benefits that include looser regulation, tax breaks and the ability to receive financing from Russia’s sovereign fund.”  The Beringovsky Advanced Development Zone (ADZ) was created by Russian legislation to provide an attractive investment and administrative framework for investors and companies in the Russian Far East.  

Without the Russian government’s largesse Owen Hegarty’s Tigers Realm Coal venture would have collapsed as according to  Greenpeace’s Unearthed blog “A plan by a small Australian-listed coal company to build two massive mines in the Russian Arctic is teetering on collapse as local indigenous landowners voice their concerns, the coal price continues to crater and banks remain wary of funding the project.”  The article goes on to reveal that “Before Tigers Realm Coal arrived on the scene, indigenous landowners – heavily reliant on fishing salmon – had endured a long struggle before finally winning legal title to an area of land around the Amaam lagoon, right near the site of the proposed project.  The community, which actively opposed coal exploration in the region, was stunned when Tigers Realm kicked off its drilling programme in late 2010.  The movement of heavy equipment over the fragile tundra impacted the protection zone of Amaam Lagoon during the crucial sockeye salmon breeding season.”  

Amur Tiger (Siberian Tiger -wikipedia) food includes salmon which breed in the Amaam Lagoon.

In April 2014 Tigers Realm Coal received 36 million Australian dollars from the Russian private equity firm Baring Vostok Mining and 16 million Australian dollars from the Russian Government’s Russian Direct Investment Fund (£30M in total).  According to Unearthed, Tigers Realm Coal (Tigers Realm Minerals Group TIG)  have even bigger ambitions for mining in the Russian Far East.  

Owen Hegarty’s appointment as Director at West Cumbria Mining hot on the heels of Government approval for the first deep coal mine in 30 years in the UK has raised not one eyebrow amongst NGOs or the press.  This is despite the financial backing of WCM by Hegarty’s EMR Capital (largely from unknown sources) and the large slice of Russian ownership of Hegarty’s Tigers Realm Coal. The May 2022 AGM report for Tigers Realm Minerals Group (TIG) lists Owen Hegarty as “Independent Non-Executive Director” and “Founder of TIG”.

West Cumbria Mining have not yet found time to add Owen Hegarty to their “Meet the Team”  despite the illustrious new team member receiving the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the June 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for service to the mining and minerals sector.

It does make you wonder about the Orwellian hate directed at Russia by our government on the one hand and approving a deep coal mine near Sellafield with Russian Government backed Director Owen Hegarty on the other.  

Also makes you wonder about the push for a deep nuclear dump for high level nuclear wastes, as the  government advisor for the nuclear dump is CEO of WCM Mark Kirkbride.  Kirkbride’s coal mine has been bankrolled by EMR Capital whose Russian government funded owner (to the tune of at least £30 Million)  is now an appointed Director of West Cumbria Mining.  

So much for national security – but hey we need the steel from Cumbrian coking coal to build Trident nuclear submarines to protect us all from evil Russia.  

Pull the other one its got bells on.

Fake News and Journalistic Irresponsibility

The Coal Mine is generating reams of copy in the press and much grandstanding by so many.

One comment by a reporter I spoke to back in 2018 caught my eye. Back in 2018 I described to the reporter the coal mine in all its glory – the carbon and methane emissions, the loss of ancient woodland and most importantly the proximity to Sellafield and the mine’s location under the radioactive wastes on the seabed ( we didn’t know then that the CEO of the coal mine was going to be employed as nuclear dump advisor to Govnt). This reporter was literally begged to actually report on the Cumbria coal mine. His reply to me was: “we shall circle round to the coal mine when the decision has been taken.” The Fake News is that the Nuclear aspects of this coal mine – the dangers and the cronyism are still being wilfully hidden from public view.

The reporter was then the Environment reporter for the Guardian. This is my reply to his tweet today

BBC still don’t want to hear about earthquakes, Sellafield or the coal boss’ advising government on nuclear waste dumping

As representative of the first group opposing the coal mine I was phoned up by Radio 5 Live last night to expect a call this morn at 7.35am to talk on their breakfast show.

The researcher wanted to know what I would be highlighting – I said we had already lobbied to have a traffic light system for earthquakes (brushed aside by the Planning Inspector as part of the conditions on the coal mine) and we would now push hard for that as coal produces more earthquakes than fracking.

Unlike fracking there is no traffic light system in place to halt coal operations should earthquakes occur and that this is especially important as the coal mine is just a few miles from Sellafield.

Also that the coal boss is the government’s nuclear dump advisor appointed to the Committee on Radioactive Waste management in 2019 to deliver a Geological Disposal Facility. This should make the Govnts approval of the coal mine null and void ethically (cronyism) and possibly legally- anyway -needless to say they havn’t rung up but have gone with the ‘safe pair of hands’ of Friends of the Earth who keep to the safe narrative of climate, steel and jobs.

I was also going to say that the coal mine would produce 400,000 tonnes of CO2 a year – this pales to the nuclear waste industry’s 1,046,950 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) a year – from the NDA “Using Greenhouse Gas Protocol methodology, the total NDA group carbon footprint for 2019/20 is 1,046,950 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)” and the coal boss has been appointed to advise that industry!

The researcher said he didn’t know about all that and agreed it was scandalous – the BBC obviously still don’t want to expose the full truth about the coal mine which is great for our nuclear obsessed govnt..

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     https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coal-mining-licence-applications/coal-mining-licence-applications

Map of Offshore Area No 2   https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/cy/request/267022/response/663418/attach/9/UND0184%20Register%20details.pdf?cookie_passthrough=1

Block New Coal Licences for Cumbria https://keepcumbriancoalinthehole.wordpress.com/2021/04/12/petition-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 https://keepcumbriancoalinthehole.wordpress.com/2021/01/18/do-not-rubber-stamp-new-coal-authority-licenses-for-cumbria/

6th Climate Budget   https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/sixth-carbon-budget/     note the Climate Change Committee is appointed by BEIS

British Geological Society Lack of Testing in West Cumbria https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/west_cumbria_mining_abstraction#incoming-1625582

British Geological Society Lack of Testing in Bangladesh https://www.iwapublishing.com/news/arsenic-contamination-groundwater-bangladesh-environmental-and-social-disaster

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 https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/04914614/filing-history

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  https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/07143398/filing-history

The steel industry will soon have little use for Cumbrian coal


Coal Mine to be Recommended for Approval Tomorrow?

We have heard on the grapevine that the Planning Inspector Stephen Normington will announce his recommendation on the Cumbria Coal Mine plan tomorrow – the same day as the Energy Security Strategy is to be announced.

The following are some personal thoughts….

The timing suggests that the Planning Inspector will recommend approval – its always a good day to bury bad news in the midst of a whole raft of bad news. We hope beyond hope that the Planning Inspector will recommend refusal…but given the governmental push for new nuclear and the fact that the CEO of the Coal Mine is a key advisor on the (pro-nuclear government’s) ‘necessity’ of putting nuclear waste “away,” we suspect the former.

Approval of the coal mine would help the government push through on its nuclear plans as the condemnation regarding the coal mine would include the ire of well known talking heads both nationally and internationally and that ire would enjoy blanket media coverage (unlike the ire against nuclear). Similarly with the recent announcement that fracking might not be dead and buried. The campaign agenda for activists and the public can easily be coralled narrowly into coal and fracking with celebrities and headlines – leaving the campaigners fighting to end the poisoning of the populace and the planet, from nuclear, in a very hard place.

It is heart breaking that mainstream NGOs have comprehensively ignored the nuclear aspects of this coal mine, its close proximity to Sellafield, its location under the radioactively contaminated Cumbrian Mud Patch and the appointment of the coal boss and his head of operations to the nuclear waste plans. The public have been steered away from the cold hard truth about this coal mine and it has done no-one apart from the nuclear industry and our pro-nuclear government any favours. If that sounds bitter it isn’t – it is beyond bitterness.

Here’s hoping that the Inspector recommends refusal.

Decades of Sellafield’s Reprocessing Waste On Irish Sea Bed Would be Churned Up by Coal Mine Subsidence

A great article by Paul Brown below – there is however a big elephant in the room regarding this story. The elephant in the room is the Cumbrian Mud Patch – the radioactive silts on the Irish Sea bed resulting from decades of reprocessing. The coal mine due to be decided upon soon by Government (after Planning Inspector Stephen Normington makes his recommendation) would churn up this nuclear crapola on the seabed. A tsunami of radioactive wastes now largely inert (apart from tidal processes) would be resuspended in the water column – returning to the shores and to the rest of the world. It takes only 4 years for Sellafield’s seaborne waste to reach the Arctic. The coal mine would cause subsidence and resulting resuspension of nuclear wastes. The coal mine would cause earthquakes. Both these outcomes are not “likely” they are certain. The coal mine CEO is also employed by government as advisor on the plans for a deep (and not so deep) nuclear dump for heat generating nuclear wastes – you couldn’t make it up.

February 10, 2022

The Legacy of Britain’s Dirty Decades of Nuclear Reprocessing: 120 Tonnes of Plutonium

by Paul Brown

Sellafield nuclear plant. Photo by Dafydd Waters/Creative Commons.

Seventy years after the United Kingdom first began extracting plutonium from spent uranium fuel to make nuclear weapons, the industry is finally calling a halt to reprocessing, leaving the country with 120 tons of the metal, the biggest stockpile in the world. However, the government has no idea what to do with it.

Having spent hundreds of billions of pounds producing plutonium in a series of plants at Sellafield in the Lake District, the UK policy is to store it indefinitely—or until it can come up with a better idea. There is also 90,000 tons of less dangerous depleted uranium in warehouses in the UK, also without an end use.

Plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and then mixed with uranium as a fuel for existing fission reactors have long ago been abandoned as too expensive, unworkable, or sometimes both. Even burning plutonium as a fuel, while technically possible, is very costly.

The closing of the last reprocessing plant, as with all nuclear endeavours, does not mean the end of the industry, in fact it will take at least another century to dismantle the many buildings and clean up the waste. In the meantime, it is costing £3 billion a year to keep the site safe.

Perhaps one of the strangest aspects of this story to outside observers is that, apart from a minority of anti-nuclear campaigners, this plutonium factory in one of prettiest parts of England hardly ever gets discussed or mentioned by the UK’s two main political parties. Neither has ever objected to what seems on paper to be a colossal waste of money.

The secret of this silence is that the parliamentary seats in the Lake District are all politically on a knife-edge. No candidate for either Conservative or Labour can afford to be anti-nuclear, otherwise the seat would certainly go to the opposition party.

The story of Sellafield matters, however, particularly to countries like Japan, which is poised to open its own reprocessing works at Rokkasho, Aomori in September. Strangely, too, this is one of Japan’s most scenic areas.

This plan is particularly controversial in a country that is the only one so far to have had nuclear bombs used against it. Like Britain, Japan has no obvious outlet for the plutonium it will produce, except nuclear weapons and fast breeder reactors, this last a technology Japan has already tried and has ended in failure. It also seems unnecessary because Japan already owns a plutonium stockpile of several tonnes from sending spent fuel to the UK to be reprocessed.

While there is much more opposition in Japan, including from the influential New Diplomacy Initiative, there is local support for the works because politicians see employment opportunities. But there is also international concern about the potential spread of nuclear weapon capability to Japan and beyond.

In Britain, reprocessing began in 1952 entirely as a military endeavour. The idea was to make hydrogen bombs so Britain could keep up with the United States and Russia in the nuclear arms race.

A much larger plant opened in 1964, and it is this one that is finally due to close this year. It had a nominal capacity to reprocess 1,500 tonnes of spent fuel a year for both military and civilian purposes. It reprocessed fuel from the UK’s 26 Magnox, Italy’s Latina, and Japan’s Tokai Magnox nuclear reactors. It has reprocessed 45,000 tonnes so far and has 318 more to go.

From its inception, the reprocessing works was a highly polluting plant, discharging contaminated water into the Irish Sea. Plutonium, cesium, and other radionuclides were sent out to sea in a mile-long pipeline. Radioactivity was picked up in shellfish in Ireland, Norway, and Denmark, and in local seafood that had to be tested regularly to see if the radioactive load they carried made them too dangerous to eat. Local people were advised to keep their consumption of shellfish low. These discharges have now been considerably cleaned up.

A third “recycling” project, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP), was planned in 1977, expected to capitalize on the then projected expansion of nuclear power and to provide plutonium and uranium for newer reactors, and for the still-hoped-for fast breeder reactor programme. Government approval was given nine years later, by which time contracts for reprocessing had been made with a number of foreign companies. The new plant’s biggest customer was Japan.

So in the end, reprocessing became a commercial venture rather than producing anything useful. Nine countries sent spent fuel to Sellafield to have plutonium and uranium extracted for reuse and paid a great deal of money to do so. In reality, very little of either metal has ever been used because mixed oxide fuels were too expensive, and fast breeder reactors could never be scaled up sufficiently to be economic.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the UK government body now charged with keeping Sellafield safe and ultimately dismantling it, still makes £820 million (US$1.16 billion) a year storing spent fuel, plutonium, uranium, and nuclear waste for foreign governments and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. This latter waste includes the radioactive material from powering nuclear submarines and manufacturing bombs and warheads. The rest of the £3.345 billion (US$4.570) budget comes from the UK taxpayer.

In its current plan, the NDA hopes to have disposed of all spent fuel by 2125—103 years hence. All buildings will be demolished or reused by 2133.

Although these targets seem a long way off, some of the interim ones are already unlikely. The documents say the NDA hopes to establish a deep depository for high-level waste by 2040—but the UK government has been looking for a site since 1980, and every one “found” has so far been rejected. It has just started the search all over again, offering lots of financial incentives to local communities to consider the idea.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain—most of the 11,000 people currently employed at Sellafield will still have jobs for decades to come.

This article first appeared on The Energy Mix and is available for republication through the commons.

Flying Underwater

“Flying Underwater – Black Guillemots at St Bees”. The last nesting place of Black Guillemots in England is St Bees where the first deep coal mine in 30 years will soon be decided upon.

The Coal Mine planning inspector Stephen Normington will, any day now, be making his recommendation to government (the same government who have appointed the coal boss as nuclear dump advisor).

Then the final decision will be with Secretary of State Michael Gove on whether or not to open a new coal mine under the Marine Conservation Zone off St Bees and just five miles from Sellafield.

Concerns, aside from climate, raised by Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole since 2017, regarding seismic, nuclear and marine impacts have been well and truly ‘talked over’ despite our vehement campaigning.

The narrowed narrative allowed in the media (with rare exceptions) and siezed upon by NGOs (with rare exceptions) has been to focus myopically on climate ignoring all other arguably more important impacts such as seismicity, Sellafield, and putting the infrastructure in place for a deep nuclear dump.

The climate impacts of this coal mine would be the same anywhere – but this is not anywhere and the CEO of the coal mine, Mark Kirkbride, key advisor to government on nuclear dump plans, is not your ordinary everyday coal boss.

#KeepCumbrianCoalintheHole #LakesAgainstNuclearDump

Climate Noise Has Obscured Nuclear Dump Cronyism and Nuclear Impacts of Coal Mine – Why Bother With Traffic Light System for Induced Earthquakes?

The following letter has just been sent to the Coal Mine Planning Inspector Mr Stephen Normington following a letter from the Rt Hon Greg Hands, Minister of State for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change (this Govnt department appointed the coal mine boss as “invaluable” nuclear dump advisor).

Dear Planning Inquiry Inspector Mr Stephen Normington,

Happy New Year to you and yours.

We, Radiation Free Lakeland (who run the Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole campaign) are aware that you will shortly be making a recommendation to the Secretary of State on West Cumbria Mining’s coal mine plan.

We would like to draw your attention to a letter (attached) we have received from the Rt Hon Greg Hands, Minister of State for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change.  The reply is to our letter requesting that, should the coal mine be approved by government, then a seismic Traffic Light System at least as stringent as that for the oil and gas industry should be part of the conditions imposed.   The empirical evidence (presented by Radiation Free Lakeland at the Planning Inquiry) is unequivocal in its findings that coal mining produces earthquakes of far greater magnitude and frequency than that of fracking.  Despite this Greg Hands MP states that there will be no Traffic Light System for the coal mine.

In tandem with the absence of a seismic Traffic Light System is the outrageous allowance of 6mm/s Peak Particle Velocity as agreed by the Inquiry’s Rule 6 Parties and Developer for ground movements as a result of the deep mining proposed.   As you will be aware the PPV at which “receptors”  will make complaints is 1mm/s.

An observer of the bulk of the Planning Inquiry would have had no idea of the uniquely dangerous sense of place regarding the planned coal mine.  If this same coal mine was anywhere in the world the climate impacts would be the same.  But this coal mine is not anywhere in the world.  It is five miles from Sellafield, the worlds riskiest nuclear waste site,  under the arguably most radioactively contaminated sea in the world and directly beneath the radioactively contaminated Cumbrian Mud Patch.

You will see In his reply to us the Minister answers a question we did not ask – namely the use of the coal mine as a nuclear dump – no one in their right mind would think of using a coal mine as a nuclear dump, our concerns lay with the undeniable connections/cronyism between the coal mine and the proposed Geological Disposal Facility.

The Government’s refusal to consider a seismic Traffic Light System for the earthquake inducing coal mine is a case in point. 

Mark Kirkbride the CEO of West Cumbria Mining was appointed in 2019 as an “invaluable” adviser to the Government (Committee on Radioactive Waste Management) on the digging of big holes for a Geological Disposal Facility for Heat Generating Nuclear Wastes and for shallower Near Surface Disposal of Low and Intermediate Level Nuclear Wastes.   

We are painfully aware, as no doubt is government nuclear dump advisor Mark Kirkbride, that a seismic Traffic Light System for an earthquake inducing deep undersea coal mine would also impact negatively on the facilitation of an even deeper hole for a GDF. The Irish Sea area adjacent to the coal mine is in the frame for a GDF.

We urge you to take all these related issues into consideration and emphatically advise refusal for the deep coal mine which is far more than the sum of its (more widely reported) climate/jobs parts.   Should this coal mine go ahead the people and environment of Cumbria and the planet WILL be exposed to deep radiological, immediate and irreversible impacts that will make the more widely reported and not to be sneezed at climate impacts pale into insignificance.

The whole thing feels like a massive stitch up in which the climate issues have been used as a smoke screen to hide the nuclear impacts of this coal mine.  If Leonardo DiCaprio (of “Don’t Look Up” fame)  thinks climate campaigners have it bad he should walk a mile in the shoes of nuclear safety campaigners!

Please ensure the safety of Cumbria and the planet by emphatically advising refusal for this out of control deep coal mine five miles from Sellafield.

Thank You.

Yours sincerely,

Marianne Birkby
Radiation Free Lakeland who run the Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole campaign

“We may not need a licence to drill”

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com
Fulmar – photo by Dorothy Bennett

The following request has been sent to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in the light of West Cumbria Mining’s statement that they “might not need a licence from the MMO” should government approve the plan. Do they know something we don’t given the proximity to Sellafied, the radioactively contaminated Cumbrian Mud Patch (above the mine) and the ecologically sensitive marine protected area of the Irish Sea:

Dear Marine Management Organisation,

West Cumbria Mining have said that “we may not need a licence from the Marine Management Organisation” to mine for coal under the Irish Sea in an area of multiple conservation protections.

Has a pre-application submission been made by West Cumbria Mining for Woodhouse Colliery?

If this is the case I request sight of:

1. Pre-application submission/s from West Cumbria Mining
2. All Replies from the Marine Management Organisation to West Cumbria Mining

Yours faithfully,

Marianne Birkby