A new report, commissioned by campaign group Radiation Free Lakeland, delivers a damning verdict on a proposed seismic blast in the Irish Sea.
The UK Government’s Nuclear Waste Management Services (NWS) are due to carry out seismic surveys off the Cumbrian coast between July and August this year. They are looking for a place to dispose of the waste produced by British nuclear reactors.
The report calls for those plans to be postponed, saying the impact assessment by the NWS is “grossly inadequate” and “lacks appropriate scientific and academic rigor”.
What is Seismic Shot?
Seismic blasting is a process that allows scientists to learn more about the geography of the seabed. Loud, repetitive sonic blasts are produced from an underwater air gun – like a powerful horn – and their echoes are measured to map underwater rocks.
The airgun will fire every 10 to 15 seconds, for the entire investigation period of approximately one month.
The investigations, commissioned by NWS, will examine the possibility of locating a geological storage facility (GDF). Deep beneath the seabed, this facility will be used to dispose of the UK’s high-level toxic legacy nuclear waste – the highly radioactive by-products of nuclear reactors.
Shearwater GeoServices, the company which saw the High Court end its work on South Africa’s Ecologically Sensitive Wild Coastconducts the investigations.
According to a freedom of information request, an exemption license to conduct these surveys was granted to the NWS for “scientific research.” But Radiation Free Lakeland says the survey is not for “scientific research”, but for a nuclear waste disposal plan.
” We ordered an independent report because we need to counter the nuclear waste industry’s public relations strategy of calling seismic testing ‘non-invasive scientific research’,” says Marianne Birkby, founder of the campaign group.
She argues that, rather than seismic blasting for scientific purposes, the plans facilitate a commercial venture for a “nuclear deep dump for heat-generating nuclear waste.”
A limited liability company that wants to license ever more nuclear waste from new nuclear builds, Radioactive Waste Management, is behind it all, Birkby claims.
“Despite the marine protections enjoyed by this part of the Irish Sea, it is outrageous that independent environmental impact assessments have not been carried out. The protections clearly mean nothing when the waste industry nuclear wants to pave the way for a deep nuclear discharge.
In response to the claims, the NWS says “it is not necessary to undertake a public consultation for these investigations”.
“We have undertaken marine environmental assessments requested by Natural England and shipping authorities to assess any impact and they have been satisfied that our activities are exempt,” adds Chris Eldred, Senior Project Manager for Geosphere Characterization. at Nuclear Waste Services.
Seismic surveys can devastate marine life
The low frequency sounds generated by a single seismic airgun can travel great distances, especially in deeper water.
They have been recorded at locations up to 4,000 kilometers from the source and can blanket areas of up to 300,000 square kilometers in noise. Studies have shown that because seismic surveys can disturb, injure or kill a wide variety of marine life, they can impact entire ecosystems.
Zooplankton are the base of the marine food chain and are extremely important to the health of our oceans. They are also very vulnerable to these loud noises, according to scientists.
The researchers found that seismic surveys dramatically increase zooplankton mortality rates in the 1.2 kilometer range they tested, killing all krill larvae within the range.
The Radiation Free Lakeland report says surveys will take place when zooplankton populations are expected to be high. These creatures provide a food source for a wide variety of organisms, including baleen whales, basking sharks and fish which, in turn, feed many other species.
Many others Marine animals also rely on sound to survive. Seismic testing can interfere with basic functions such as communication, navigation, feeding, and mating.
“Noise exposure can be a problem for a wide variety of cetaceans – dolphins, porpoises and whales,” according to the Zoological Society of London. Cetacean Stranding Survey Program.
“Noise-related impacts have also been causally linked to numerous cetacean grounding and mass stranding events around the world.”
The NWS survey will focus on a study area of five to 20 kilometers off the coast of Cumbria in the North West of England in an area of around 250 square kilometres. The proposed GDF may span an area of 25 square kilometres, deep below the seabed.
This area is one of many designated areas Marine conservation areas in the Irish Sea. It has protected habitats and is home to a number of European protected species, such as sea turtles, minke whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, and harbor porpoises.
“The Irish Sea is rich in marine life, from soft corals and reefs that are home to crabs and anemones to seals, whales and around 30 species of sharksays Joan Edwards, director of policy at Wildlife Trusts.
“Sandbars and gravel habitats are vital nursery grounds for flatfish, bass and sea eels, while also serving as a feeding ground for thousands of breeding seabirds.”
Marine habitats are already under enormous pressure from pollution, irresponsible development and bottom trawling – as well as the consequences of climate change, she explains.
“We are concerned about the implications of seismic testing in the Irish Sea, which evidence shows can be devastating to marine life.”
The report claims that many extremely important marine species found in the region have not been studied for their sensitivity to seismic surveys.
A “marked lack of transparency” on the part of Nuclear Waste Services
Marine radioactivity researcher and consultant Tim Deere-Jones authored the Radiation Free Lakeland report. He says NWS’ license application for the seismic survey is characterized by “a marked lack of transparency.”
It also demonstrates a refusal to engage in consultation with the public and maritime stakeholders such as fishermen. Deere-Jones claims to have carried out what is essentially a private internal environmental impact assessment – with no independent oversight.
“NWS also ignored the comment from Professor Popper, a leading authority on fish bioacoustics.”
Popper warns of a clear “lack of information” that makes it impossible to draw a clear conclusion about what effect these explosions might have on animal behavior or health.
As a result, warns Deere-Jones, the NWS has produced an “inadequate and inaccurate impact assessment” of the effects of airgun surveys on marine species found in these regional marine conservation areas.
“My recommendation is that consideration of the proposed investigation, and all such investigations in UK waters, be postponed until the information gaps mentioned by Professor Popper have been closed and decisions taken. properly informed impact assessments can be made,” he adds.
The report ends with a recommendation to consider appropriate alternatives to air-powered seismic surveys, which pose a lesser threat to marine life.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put nuclear at heart of the country’s new energy strategy. There are now plans to build up to eight new nuclear reactors in the country.
However, to date, no permanent and safe storage method has been found for high-level nuclear waste. It remains dangerous for several thousand years, threatening human health and the environment. 250,000 tons of this waste are currently in temporary storage around the world.
The UK government, like many others, promotes deep geological storage to deal with the most radioactive waste – whether deep underground or deep under the seabed.
However, many concerns remain over the £53bn (€62bn) facility in the Irish Sea, which has not been tested and offers no guarantees of safety.