Radioactive Dumping – Government Puts Augean Profits First

Eric Pickles08:07 Monday 13th June 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: It was only a few weeks ago that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles ignored local planning objections, including a referendum, as he gave the go-ahead for low-level nuclear waste to be dumped near the village of Kingscliffe, just off the A1. On Saturday the site’s operators Augean PLC held an open day, and our reporter Tim Alba went along to have a look round. (TAPE)
TIM ALBAN: Just got out of my car here at the site at Kingscliffe, Gorgeous sunny day. Bit of a breeze. Looking around I can see various bits of plant, a weighbridge, what look like old tyres, but I’m not sure whether they are. (VOXPOP) You’ve just been on the tour. What do you think of what you’ve seen.
PUBLIC ONE: Well I think Augean have been making a great effort to communicate with us today, which is the first time I felt really better about things, I still think there’s quite a lot to be desired, but that’s the nature of the job they’re trying to do. I reserve judgment.
PUBLIC TWO: I live in Easton on the Hill, the same distance as the crow flies, same as Kingscliffe.
TIM ALBAN: What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen today?
PUBLIC TWO: I’m reassured, again.
TIM ALBAN: And what’s reassuring you particularly?
PUBLIC TWO: Just the openness about how they’re explaining. The lining and the leachate, everything.
DR WILSON: I’m Dr Jean Wilson. I’m Group Technical Director for Augean PLC.
TIM ALBAN: The popular poll that was taken place, the reactions of the District Council, the County Council, the comments from Peterborough City Council, were overwhelmingly against what’s proposed here. Why do you think the opposition was so strong?
DR WILSON: I think largely because there are a lot of misunderstandings about the sorts of waste that we propose to take. These proposals are essentially safe. The exposure as a result of the slightly radioactively contaminated material that we’re going to take will be less than 1% of what we’re naturally exposed to every day.
PUBLIC THREE: The people I know who I’ve argued long with about this who were very negative. are going away less negative.
TIM ALBAN: So do you think if the referendum was rerun now, there’d be a different outcome to when it was run in April?
PUBLIC THREE: It would be a different outcome, particularly if they gave a voice to those of us who didn’t mind one way or the other. Because we didn’t have a choice in that referendum. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Interesting. On the line is Louise Mensch, Tory MP for Corby. Louise formerly Bagshawe of course, just gor married, congratulations Louise.
LOUISE MENSCH: Thank you very much.
PAUL STAINTON: And also on the line is Chris Leuchars from Kingscliffe Waste Watchers. Morning Chris.
CHRIS LEUCHARS: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Chris we’ll start with you. It seems like some people don’t really care.
CHRIS LEUCHARS: Probably some people don’t really care. Some people maybe haven’t done as much research into the matter as we have. The presentation was very slick on Saturday, but we didn’t see things like how the waste was going to be actually handled when it got onto site. And little pieces of information like the fact that the company is buying up other sites in the area were not mentioned either, which might lead to more anxiety among local people. Also the company were not particularly forthcoming on their safety record. They’re currently being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive for an explosion on another of their sites, the same site by the way in which they got fined £90,000 a couple of years ago for negligent practices. So we’re not totally reassured, no.
PAUL STAINTON: And Louise, your thoughts, from some of the people you heard from there?
LOUISE MENSCH: Well it is very easy to pick a couple of people out for a voxpop frankly, and stick them on the radio. What we saw …
PAUL STAINTON: Well that’s not what we did, that was indicative Louise.
LOUISE MENSCH: But I don’t think it was frankly. Becuase we actually ran a referendum which was votes at ballot boxes ..
PAUL STAINTON: No it was indicative of the people that were there Louise.
LOUISE MENSCH: The results of that referendum were absolutely overwhelming, and they were 98% in favour, and there certainly was an option to say that you didn’t mind, and a few people voted that way. But the reaction was so overwhelmingly the other way. We’re talking 98% here of the people that actually came out to vote. And we had a large turnout, 56% of local people getting out and bothering to come out, and basically a parish organised referendum. So really your listeners should know that there is overwhelming opposition to it in the local area, not just in Kingscliffe, but in all the surrounding vallages, as well as of course, all the people that showed up at the public meetings that you’ve referred to in the whole process opf appealing this. Now the Secretary of State has made this decision, and that is very unfortunate. But just as Chris says, Augean have a very bad safety record. They’re currently being fined. They’re not levelling with people about how they’re going to dispose of the waste. As the local MP, what I’m pressing the Government for now is extra inspections, and a tighter regulatory system than is already in place.
PAUL STAINTON: Why aren’t your Government, Louise, listening to the people?
LOUISE MENSCH: Well I think there is a huge energy crisis in this country, and they need nuclear sites, because they need to increase nuclear power. I’m all in favour of that. I fear that they’ve made the wrong decision in this case, because people don’t have confidence, despite that little voxpop, people do not have confidence that this is safe. The local referendum proved that overwhelmingly. And now that they’ve made this bad decision, obviously what I want to do is get an extra inspection regime in place, so that people can be genuinely reassured, not just by a slick presentation, but by some proper serious monitoring. I know I had a call over the weekend from Stewart Jackson, Peterborough’s MP, and he’s receiving a lot of concern in his office from people living further away in Peterborough and in Cambridgeshire about the effect on the water system.
PAUL STAINTON: Why doesn’t Eric Pickles listen to you guys then? You’re the MPs on the ground. We’ve had a referendum. Why is he just bludgeoning on with this?
LOUISE MENSCH: Well he’s received advice from Augean and from scientists that the thing is completely safe. The obvious response to that is if the stuff is completely safe, why can’t they dispose of the waste close to where it’s generated? Why does it need to be carted across the country and dumped in Kingscliffe?
PAUL STAINTON: Why is he being so bloody-minded?
CHRIS LEUCHARS: I think I discovered the answer to that at the inquiry. I spoke to the gentleman from Harwell, which is one of the main consigning sites. He exlained to me that they’re actually going to dig up waste that’s been buried for 30 years, not necessarily because it’s unsafe, but because Harwell wants a clean site licence so it can be sold on. So in terms of the national need, I think we’re talking less about that than we’re talking about the profitability of a private company. We just happen to be at the wrong end of a business deal.
PAUL STAINTON: Where do you go from here Chris? Can you appeal? Can you take it further?
CHRIS LEUCHARS: Yes we can. We are presently consulting with lawyers to see whether there is a case for taking to the High Court. And of course there is the new application, which was the focus of the presentation on Saturday. And of course nothing’s changed. The situation’s simply got worse. Now the waste is going to be buried for longer, more of it’s going to be buried. The company’s expanding in the area. They seem to have the go-ahead in Northamptonshire. There’s even more to fight for this time.
PAUL STAINTON: If you’re not successful in the courts, which is going to cost a lot of money I would presume, can you see villagers blockading the place? Can you see them stopping the lorries going in?
CHRIS LEUCHARS: Well we’ll have to see, won’t we?
PAUL STAINTON: Is there a strength of feeling?
CHRIS LEUCHARS: There’s a strong sense of feeling. We had a meeting in the village yesterday, over a hundred people turned up. And there was a considerable resolve to fight this new application.
PAUL STAINTON: Louise, would you support direct action?
LOUISE MENSCH: Would I support direct action? I think it remains to be seen. No. I think the responsible way to challenge things is through the courts, which Waste Watchers and the local people are doing. Had you gone to the meeting yesterday you’d have had a very different voxpop to broadcast today. But of course local people will take every available action open to them. At the end of the day though the decision is the Government’s. And given that this is probably going to go ahead now, and I think we have to be realistic, my aim here is to make sure that it goes ahead in as safe as possible a manner. I don’t trust Augean’s track record. I think that they derserve extra monitoring, based on the fines they’ve already received. And myself and Stewart Jackson the Peterborough MP will be pushing to get an extra monitoring regime put in place, so that we can offer some actual scientific reassurance to local people, rather than presentations.
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s hope for once you and Chris and the people of Kingsliffe get listened to, because it appears the Government are not interested in what the local people of Kingscliffe had to say.