Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd05/12/2017
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|David J. Rowlands AM||Cadeirydd|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Mike Hedges AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
|Rhun ap Iorwerth AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Chris Fayers||EDF Energy|
|Dr Stephen Roast||EDF Energy|
|Peter Bryant||EDF Energy|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire O'Sullivan||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Kath Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle y mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.
The meeting began at 09:01.
Good morning, bore da, and welcome to the Petitions Committee. I will note that, at the moment, we're still waiting on Janet Finch-Saunders and Rhun ap Iorwerth. They've not made any apologies with regard to not attending. I think that they'll probably be just a little late. I know that Rhun has obligations with the Business Committee.
So, we move on to the next item on the agenda, which is the new petitions, and the first of those is 'Prescription drug dependence and withdrawal—recognition and support'. This petition was submitted by Stevie Lewis, having collected 213 signatures. The background to this is that an initial response to the petition was received from the then Minister for Social Services and Public Health on 18 October.
I think that there are some points for discussion. The actions include targeted prevention and awareness-raising campaigns, which was included in the Minister's response. So, do the Members have anything they'd like to add or make comments on, on this matter?
I agree with the recommendation—the possible actions there. Possibly, anti-depressants should be added to the list of drugs targeted by the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, and on whether patients should have access to a prescribed medication support service, we could write to the Cabinet Secretary, I think.
So, the possible actions that are suggested are the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services to share the information provided by the petitioner and to ask for his views in response, including on whether anti-depressants should be added to the list of drugs targeted for reduction by the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group and whether patients across Wales should have access to a prescribed medication support service. Are we agreed with that? Yes?
Fine. Good. All agreed.
The next petition refers to 'Save the Future Generation of Wales'. This petition was submitted by Ken Ebihara, having collected 54 signatures. He's made some points that there is a gap between the actual financial contributions to youth work provided by the individual local authorities through the revenue support grant and that of the notional allocation for youth work. A response to the petition was received from the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning on 14 November. So, do any of the Members have any comments to make with regard to this?
I think there are questions to be asked, Chairman, about how we see amounts of funding allocated in certain local authority budgets for, say, youth work, and then how that does transcend down to actual support on the ground for youngsters. I know I've had reasons in the past to question how that money is allocated. According to our notes, the Minister's saying, 'Oh well, they've no intention of changing at the moment', but can we not go back to the Minister perhaps to seek a little bit more detail about how she believes—or they believe, I should say—that this is actually allocated? At the moment, we have these differences, don't we, with hypothecated and not? I think there have been some issues around social care and health, and I think it would be really good to prove out exactly what our local authorities—
It isn't hypothecated apparently, is it, as such? Mike, are you happy?
We keep talking about intervention at young ages to stop things going wrong.
We know how the standard spending assessment is calculated and the parts that make that up, so there'll be a part of the standard spending assessment for each local authority that will involve these items. I don't know whether they're spending at, more or less than that. I do know they're spending substantially more on elderly care than they're being allocated. I think we can go back and ask for further information, but it comes down to a decision: do you take Mrs Jones's homecare away from her to provide this service? With local government being massively underfunded—in my opinion being massively underfunded—decisions are being made and it's basically the greatest crises are being dealt with as a priority. I think it would be helpful if we knew what the expenditure was against the standard spending assessment allocation.
Yes, fine. Neil.
I think it would be worth finding out what each authority does. The youth system is just—to me it seems a very easy hit for local authorities. If you look at Cardiff, they decimated the youth system between 2012 and 2017 and we're seeing the results of that now on the streets, where children and youths now don't have safe places to go. I remember reading a consultation with children aged about 12, with the closure of my local youth centre, and a child said that he would have to go drug dealing when the centre closed because that was his only safe environment. What annoys me is that I know everyone's short of money, yet Cardiff council, for example, spends £1 million on an extreme sailing event and yet closes 15 youth centres. That's what really frustrates me to be honest.
Okay. Are we saying that we would like the Welsh Government to have greater scrutiny as to how this money is allocated?
I think what I would say is: can we be told how much is in the standard spending assessment for it and how much is being spent in aggregate total in Wales? The Welsh Government must have that sort of information.
Fine. So, are we content that the committee could write to the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning to seek confirmation that future arrangements for youth work, including funding, will form part of the review of 'Extending Entitlement' and the public consultation exercise in 2018? Does that cover your comments on that?
I think we'll include in that letter a question about what the overall amount spent on youth work is by the Welsh Government and what each local authority spends.
Fine. Yes. Are you happy with that? Yes. Okay. Thank you.
The next new petition is 'Remove the compulsory aspect of Welsh Baccalaureate'. This petition was submitted by Katharine Drinkwater having collected 60 signatures. We've had an initial response to the petition; it was received from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on 25 October. In that, the Cabinet Secretary asserts that the Welsh baccalaureate is not compulsory and it is down to the individual school and headmaster as to how it's actually administered.
I would like to note that the Children, Young People and Education Committee has actually written to the Cabinet Secretary with regard to this, so I think that the possible actions are: the committee could decide to await the findings of the review of the Welsh baccalaureate being undertaken by Qualifications Wales before considering further action on the petition, and also await the response from the Cabinet Secretary to the Children, Young People and Education Committee.
I think both of those are an excellent idea. It may not be compulsory, but schools get funding for pupils studying and passing it. So, you don't have to do it, but it counts as an extra A-level and you get extra funding by pupils doing it and for the units covered in it. So, schools don't have to do it, but it benefits their budget substantially if they do. I think that's one of the things; you don't have to do it, but you're going to pay a price if you don't. But I think we ought to let the others who are investigating it in more detail do so first, and hold this until such time we've had their replies. And can I again say when those reports are published, can we let the petitioners know?
Yes. Are we content with that?
Yes. Fine. Okay, thank you.
The next new petition is 'Review support for asylum seekers accessing further education'. This petition was submitted by Gulnar Sohail, having collected 78 signatures. We've had a response from the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning on 14 November. I think that there is, or Welsh Government are working on, a refugee and asylum seeker delivery plan. This will involve reviewing support available, including in respect of access to education. Do you have any comments on this matter?
I know we've done a lot of work in my other committee on this issue, so I do know that there are, certainly within the Assembly, things going forward, and I know that the late Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant was very instrumental in responding quite well on concerns we raised.
Right. Well, two possible actions that we could consider: the committee could await the views of the petitioner on the response provided by the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning before deciding on any further action in relation to the petition, and/or the committee could write to the Welsh Refugee Council to seek their views on the issues raised by the petition to assist the committee's consideration for next time around.
Both of those would fit in with what our normal action is: to check with the petitioner and also check with various viable organisations outside of the petitioner or the Welsh Government for their views. So, I would urge us to do both.
Yes, fine. Are you content with that Neil, Janet?
The next new petition is 'Tackle Rough Sleeping'. This was submitted by Hanin Abou Salem, having collected 71 signatures. We've had an initial response to the petition from the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on 14 November. We know that there is a number of ongoing matters with regard to these issues. They've been raised several times in Plenary, as we know. So, the possible actions, unless the committee members have any particular points they'd like to make with regard to this—. So, the possible actions: the committee could write back to the Minister for Housing and Regeneration to share the additional points raised by the petitioner and ask for the Minister's view on these, as well as requesting an update on the recommendations produced by the rough sleepers working group, when these are available.
Yes. I think that fits in with our normal procedure.
Right, okay. I'd like to welcome Rhun ap Iorwerth. I know that you've been tied up with matters with the Business Committee—it would seem so.
We had a quorum, so obviously we went forward with the recommendations, but you can look at those, and obviously look at what we've recommended, and if you want to come back to us before any action is taken, you will have time to do that.
So, we are content with possible actions on the last petition.
Now I'd like to move on to item 3 on the agenda, which is an evidence session, and it's with regard to a petition that is being presented to us: 'To Suspend Marine Licence 12/45/ML to dump radioactive marine sediments from the Hinkley Point nuclear site into Wales coastal waters off Cardiff.' The first thing we're going to do is have evidence from the petitioner, Tim Deere-Jones.
Good morning, Mr Jones. Bore da, and welcome to the Petitions Committee. We're going to seek some evidence from you and have your comments with regard to the petition that you've submitted to the committee with regard to the dumping of radioactive material sediments from Hinkley Point into the south Wales coastal waters.
So, if I can start the session by opening with the question: what led to you starting the campaign and to you submitting this petition in the first instance? And could you perhaps share your views on the nature of the sediments of the Severn estuary and the associated sediment transport system with the estuary in the Bristol channel? Now, there are a number of questions that we'll be asking subsequently to that, so if you could keep it as brief as you can in your opening statements.
Good morning, sir. Good morning, committee. Thank you for the opportunity to receive questions from you and to perhaps talk to you in slightly more depth than we've been able to in the past about some of these issues.
What got me interested in this is that I have spent at least half of my life in very close association with the marine environment. I've lived on boats, I was captain of the Celtic longboat team in Tenby and the chief coxswain of one of our boats. I've done a lot of canoeing and sea fishing, and I walk regularly on the coast path.
In 1988, when the original Hinkley C inquiry took place, I had started a citizens' group doing citizens' research, basically on the Cardigan bay coast of Wales, and we had looked at the Teifi estuary and done a radiological survey there, which was the first piece of such work that had been done on Cardigan bay ever because there is no regular monitoring between Cardiff and Ynys Môn for marine radioactivity there. And we looked at the radioactivity in the estuary there and discovered certain very interesting facts about the way marine radioactivity was behaving in the environment, especially estuarine environments.
So, we took that evidence to the Hinkley C inquiry, and at that inquiry, none of our evidence was cross-examined in any detail or refuted. But I was knocked because I was only trained as a teacher and not as a marine pollution consultant. So, following that inquiry, I applied to Cardiff university and I did a degree in marine studies at the maritime studies department there, and the degree that they were running then was to teach managers of the marine environment. So, there were a whole range of people there doing port management and shipping management, and I chose to take a course of optional modules that allowed me to be a marine pollution manager. So, since the late 1980s, I've been working full time as a marine pollution consultant with a particular interest in oil spills and marine radioactivity. And, subsequently, I have worked for all of the UK's major non-governmental organisations, some of the European major NGOs, NGOs in America and Australasia as well, and a lot of citizens' groups.
So, when this particular issue came up, I had done a lot of work—I made some submissions to the House of Commons environment committee on the proposals for nuclear new build and various submissions on the consultation process through the Hinkley C issue. None of us—my colleagues and fellow campaigners on the Hinkley front—had picked up on this proposal to dispose in Cardiff, because, actually, when you look at the thousands and thousands of pages that were submitted by the developers and their supporters on this issue, there are only actually two or three pages in the many thousands that cover the issue of dredge and dump. And I have to admit, it was a weakness, but it slipped past all of us. But I picked up on it very recently and my concerns about this issue are based on what I have learnt from my own field research and my own desk review, and what I have learnt by attending seminars and conferences, and, indeed, speaking at seminars and conferences about marine radioactivity.
So, that's how I came to it, and my concerns, really, were outlined in the text of the petition that I drew up with the support of people like CND Cymru and Stop Hinkley, which is a group on the Somerset coast, and I've had their support all throughout this campaign. So, the main aims that you have seen—. I think I submitted a statement to you along with the petition, and you can see, really, that what we're concerned about is the absence of baseline data in the Cardiff bay area—nobody has done any research on the fate of marine radioactivity dumped into the Cardiff Grounds.
Perhaps we'll explore that just a little bit further a little later on, but as I explained to you, Mr Jones, I'll invite my colleagues to question you further, and you can, perhaps, elucidate a little bit more as we question you on matters, or specific questions, as such. So, Mike, would you like to—?
Yes. Forgetting the sentence before it, you make a very bold statement:
'the actual aggregated radioactivity content of the sediments will'—
'be much higher than indicated by the available analysis.'
How can you be absolutely certain that it'll be higher?
Well, I worked out that the 7 billion calculation is derived from the figures presented for the three man-made radioactivities that have been analysed for, and I know, from my own experience and from reading the annual radioactivity in food and the environment—RIFE—reports produced by the Environment Agency and bodies like the regulating agencies, that there are actually many more radioactive isotopes in the sediments around the Hinkley environment than those three that were quoted in the report. So, we had americium, caesium and cobalt-60, and the figures there were given in becquerels to the kilogram. Well, if you work back from 300,000 tonnes how many kilograms there are and then do the multiplication of the figures given for the becquerels per kilograms, then that's how you end up with the 7 billion—or that's how I ended up with the 7 billion aggregated radioactivity.
But as I say, I know, as I have repeatedly said in many of my submissions, the nuclear power stations at Hinkley have been listed as discharging well over 50 different radioactive substances. And indeed, although not all of those are measured for or analysed for in the sediments, when you look at the annual RIFE reports for the Hinkley, you can see that there, in total, across a variety of environmental media, they are measuring 13 man-made radioactivities discharged by the Hinkley site. So, when we look at just the three that are reported in the monitoring germane to this particular proposal, that's how I get my 7 billion. And then, accepting that many more than the 50 are being discharged, and, indeed, even the RIFE reports, which I think are giving an inadequate report of the total radioactivity, they are measuring 13 substances, and so that's how I conclude that we have 7 billion, but, actually, there will be many more.
How can you be absolutely certain that the ones that aren't being measured are not de minimis?
well, I can't see any evidence that the 50-plus are being monitored for, and all I can see—the only figures that I have seen anybody present are figures for americium, caesium-137 and cobalt-60. So, I cannot see how, based on that measurement, you can construct a de minimis.
The other question I've got is on the 5cm. You say that below 5cm in the Irish sea, at depths below that, the radioactive concentrations can be substantially higher. Why would it be higher lower down?
Because they are recording historical depositions from a period when all the nuclear installations were allowed to discharge a lot higher amount of radioactivity than is presently permitted. So, figures have come down—for instance, you can look at the record for, again, Hinkley C, and you can see that in the 1980s and the late 1970s, discharges, and indeed the recorded annual monitoring figures, show that the levels of radioactivity then were eight, nine, 10 times higher than they are now because the discharges were eight, nine or 10 times higher. Therefore, you've got greater levels at depth, because that just merely reflects the chronology of the concentrations of discharges that were being released.
My last question: 5cm—how many years does that equate to?
I understand it from—. I've just actually spent last year and the year before working with the Environment Agency at Hinkley on the River Parrett, taking for the first time ever samples from the tidal river where it runs through Bridgwater town, and there what they were looking for was the contemporary—the last couple of years—and they were taking 0 to 5cm samples. Our understanding of that was that they were taking 0 to 5cm as a reflection of relatively contemporary rather than historical.
Right. Neil, would—?
When we're told that there was no scientific evidence of greater radioactivity in the sediment at Hinkley than there is anywhere else in the channel, what's your view on that?
I find that very difficult to understand—on what basis that is being said. Because, again, part of my regular work is to look every year at these RIFE reports, which I've already mentioned, and it's quite plain from them that, really, the bulk of monitoring and analytical work is carried out particularly consistently, so that you can look at year-on-year results and say, 'Here's a trend' or 'Here's not a trend', but at least you have annual data from a set of specific sites. Really, that radiological monitoring is focused exclusively on the vicinity of the discharge points. Okay? Now, there is no actual guarantee—and I think I've quoted it in one of my documents; it may be in the document that I sent yesterday that you may not have had a chance to look at yet—but I've referred there to how you can look at the end of the pipeline and monitor radioactivity in water, and it's very, very low, but then if you go some distance away, the same radionuclide in sediments is much, much higher. And, really, what you see when you look at the RIFE reports is that, say, maybe 5 or 6 miles either side of the discharge pipeline, there will be a number of monitoring points, but they won't go much further out than that. Therefore, if you look at the Bristol channel, there is radiological monitoring centred around Hinkley, there is radiological monitoring—and we're talking about the marine environment here—centred around Oldbury and Berkeley, and there'll be a bit upstream and a bit downstream. But the vast majority of that stretch of English coastline is not monitored on an annual basis. We find the same thing on the south Wales coast. There is radiological monitoring of the marine environment in the vicinity of the discharge point of the Cardiff sewers, which is done to check on the discharges from the Maynard Centre, which is producing diagnostic radioactivity. But for the rest of the Welsh coast, as far as I can see, there is no radiological monitoring anywhere from where the Welsh coast begins up towards Chepstow right the way round to Ynys Môn.
EDF say that they—
Sorry, I didn't—. I should just say: so therefore I don't understand how anybody can make a statement about the rest of the Bristol channel, because the entire Bristol channel has not been very intensely monitored at all.
Okay. EDF say that they've tested sediment, or the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science has tested sediment samples, at depths of up to 4.8m in 2009, and therefore there's no need to revisit any sediment at depth. That's the position of the company. What's your view on that?
My input on that is that, actually, I've finally, earlier this week, managed to get a copy of that document. I've looked at it and, indeed, they have done exactly what you say. They did quite a number of core studies, or they took quite a number of cores for various purposes, but actually only five of those cores are germane to the area that we're talking about. So, three of those cores are along the line of the pipeline—actually, the area to be dredged—and two of them are in association with the jetty. So actually, we've got—what is it—something like 5 km or 6 km of pipeline, which have—. So, on that length, there are only three samples that have been analysed for radioactivity, and in the jetty area there are only two samples.
So, I agree that samples have been taken, samples have been analysed. I would not have expected, necessarily, the great depth—the bottom half—to have given significant man-made radioactivity, because that, indeed, would have been heavily consolidated with long-lived sediments that probably predate the Hinkley nuclear discharges. But certainly, I think that report confirms that in the top metre, you've got the bulk of the available man-made radioactivity. Now, unfortunately, that was a very generalised survey, and what they seem to have done is take the top metre, stir it all up and then analyse it. So, we've got no profile through that top metre about the difference between the top 5 cm and the bottom 95 cm. So, it's not very discrete, but it does give you a very loose average, and I'll agree on that. But again, I would say one of my major criticisms of that is that they again have only monitored the man-made radioactivities—americium-241, caesium-137 and cobalt-60. They have monitored for natural radioactivities as well, so again, we have fallen short on a precise definition of what is in those sediments.
Can you just explain—? So, there are 17 they've not tested for. Is that what you're saying?
I'm saying that, yes, if you look at the proposal for Hinkley C, the liquid discharges proposed for Hinkley C, should it ever come on-stream, actually consist of 79 different radionuclides. And certainly, the A and the B had over 50. So, I don't think that monitoring for just three gives you a decent idea of what you've got. And then we do need to be precise, because we can say—. I could talk to you about alpha radioactivity, which is very dangerous if it's taken into the body, but some substances emitting alpha radioactivity have very, very short half-lives. So, something like iodine will have a relatively short half-life, whereas others like plutonium or americium will have half-lives of 400 years plus. And, indeed, when they decay—because this is what half-life is all about; it's about the decay period—they decay to produce other substances with even longer half-lives, which are also alpha emitters. So, you know, to just say, 'Go for three' doesn't really tell you anything about the future at all. And I see that, at some stage, one of the committee's letters to EDF suggested that EDF had actually said that they had monitored for all of the radionuclides, but I can't see how you could do that if you're only reporting three of them. So, these are my concerns in that particular regard.
You talk about alpha radiation. You didn't mention gamma or beta. From my memory back to studying physics in university, gamma was always considered to be the more dangerous of the three.
Yes, in many respects, purely because of the pathway effect. So, alphas, you really need to have them internally. So you need to inhale them or eat them, if you like, because, for instance, they are very unlikely to pass through the skin barrier, but should you have a cut, perhaps they might get into your system that way. It's often said, 'Oh, alpha is not dangerous because it won't even go through a paper bag.' And that's perfectly true. But should you eat it or inhale it, then it can get into the system, and using the lymphatic nodes and the blood stream, it can then spread throughout the body, and according to what particular radionuclide the alpha radioactivity is from, it will lodge in a particular organ or part of the body. Whereas gamma, like an x-ray, will penetrate the skin, and so, therefore, I think alpha is probably considered to have a more significant effect if you take it in than if you're standing on top of an alpha and you're not inhaling or you're not going to eat it or you haven't got cuts or legions on your skin—then that alpha won't harm you. But this is my concern about alphas: it relates to the whole sea-to-land transfer thing, because we see from the Welsh cases that I've quoted in the document that I sent you yesterday—I'm sorry that you haven't had a chance to read that, but hopefully you will later on—that we had evidence from studies in Wales that alpha radioactivity, and, indeed, beta radioactivity, are coming ashore under various conditions, and therefore pose a potential inhalation or dietary ingestion risk to human populations living in the coastal zone.
Neil, did you want to come back on that?
Yes. EDF say that they did initial testing and investigated over 50 radionuclides, but only three were detected. So, they say they've done the testing.
Well, I haven't seen the studies. I would like to see the studies, and I would like them to be further cross-examined on that. This is one of the reasons why, because it's such a complicated issue, when we drew up the petition, one of the things we asked for was some sort of public discussion where the opposing views could perhaps be heard, and it might have been pushing our luck, but we were requesting a public inquiry, and this is a great first step towards that. But, without seeing the study, I can't comment, really, except that never, ever have I come across, in the UK or anywhere else, any nuclear industry study that has looked at the impact and the fate and behaviour of all of the radionuclides discharged to sea from nuclear waste pipelines.
Do you want to finish off there, Neil, or—?
Good morning. The petition calls for suspension of the licence, and in NRW's response, they say:
'There is no need to consider licence suspension. Licence condition 9.5 prohibits the licence holder from depositing any material after 4th March 2016 without our written confirmation that we are satisfied that the material is suitable for deposit....We will not give this approval unless we are satisfied that the material is suitable for disposal.
How convinced are you by that argument and response?
I take their point. That's a standard review comment on all sorts of dredging applications and disposal applications. But there are two things that worry me. I won't name names, but off the record, a relatively senior person in NRW has told me that NRW has no in-house radiological expertise. I am aware of the fact that there's—I forget what he's called—an SLR. NRW has an agreement with the Environment Agency to—I won't say 'buy in', but to import in expertise from the Environment Agency's nuclear regulation division. And I am concerned about that, because, with the best will, and the best of intentions, when you look at the senior people in the Environment Agency's nuclear regulation department, where do they come from? They come from the nuclear industry. And I'm not saying—. My point here is that the nuclear industry is educated in a kind of orthodoxy. There's obviously—everybody has their orthodoxy. The nuclear industry orthodoxy about the marine environment goes right back to the very beginning, when initial statements were made saying that, if you discharge material down a pipeline, you would have two types of radioactivity—one would be soluble, which would be dissolved in the water column, and would disperse with the water, and then you would have other stuff that would naturally adhere to sediments. And the original position was that that material would adhere to sediments and bond to seabed sediments, which would be deposited near the end of the pipeline. This is exactly the case at Bridgwater.
Okay. What do you feel NRW could do better to give us all those assurances that we're seeking? That's my No. 1 question. No. 2: I see that the consultation period in 2012 was 28 days. Did you feed into that at the time?
What do you think—? How was that—? You know, but for being on this committee, it's fair to say I probably wouldn't—. And I do admire you for bringing a petition forward, especially with your knowledge now, and the fact that you've gone and got your degree, and that you've really gone into this, because we are dependent on people like you, bringing forward this kind of information. So, No. 1: NRW—what should they be doing more? Consultation. And, the third question to you on that point is the Cabinet Secretary's response: are the Welsh Government listening, and are they responding to the concerns that you're raising? There's three there.
Right; you'll have to take me through those one at a time. What do I think NRW and other regulators—? I won't just confine this to NRW, because I've been working on these issues, as I said, since the original Hinkley inquiry, and, in fact, before then. My first interest came when Sellafield had a leak of a year's worth of radioactivity in 1983, in a day. They lost a year's worth down the pipeline, and they said then they didn't know what to do about it. So, that was my first research project. It was floating radioactivity. We produced a set of floats and put them in to the Irish sea. They were biodegradable, but, as long as they lasted, they gave us a good picture of where that went on.
So, since then, I have been talking to, or attempting to engage with, nuclear regulators, who should be fully independent, but, unfortunately, because the major field of—. From a Government point of view, the major area where you're going to get your nuclear expertise from is from the nuclear industry. And I can see that, at that end of the scale, that's an understandable position to take. But, particularly now, when there are a lot of independent-minded people, who are capable of reading the relevant scientific literature, and making up their own, independent mind, then, while not wishing to push away the nuclear industry entirely from such consultations, I think it would be deeply important to engage intelligent, independent people, and not just have them come in and make a noise and then they go away, and you take no notice, but to actually engage with the debates that independent researchers are now coming up with. And we have a number of very qualified independent researchers in the UK, and across Europe, who can comment on these things. So, I think NRW, and other regulators, should be engaging more with the public.
The 28-day consultation period; that was at a time when I was writing a document to submit to the House of Commons committee, and I was writing consultation documents to send to the Environment Agency. I completely missed it, and I admit it—
It's a very short time period, isn't it?
It's a terribly short time. I mean, we had three months to respond to the generalised Hinkley C development application. And I know that the people who wrote that spent five or six years doing that, and then we were given three months to respond to it, having seen the documentation. So, that's another thing I would say to regulators, 'Please, can we have more notice and can we have a longer consultation period?', because it's ridiculous. You've got highly paid organisations doing all of this work and then it's put out to the public and we have to work that on a shoestring financially and on an extremely compressed timescale.
The Cabinet Secretary's response—
The Cabinet Secretary's response was exactly the sort of letter that I have been reading for the last 30 years from pro-nuclear Governments and nuclear agencies. It didn't answer any of our specific concerns, it said that they're doing it all according to the agreed protocols, and that was pretty much it, really. There was nothing there of any interest or response to the queries that I had come up with, or my colleagues who helped me to write up the petition had come up with and our very many supporters had come up with as well. I don't think that that stands any longer.
It's no use saying that you are working according to a set of protocols set up by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Although it's a United Nations agency, it is also—. If you look at the IAEA's charter, No. 2 on the charter is to promote the development of nuclear power. So, you know, you've got poachers working as gamekeepers. So, they wish, and they seek, and it is on their charter, to promote the development of nuclear power. And yet somehow, somebody or other has allowed them to seize the high ground and start making the regulations about how you do things, including how you carry out research. I don't think that's appropriate any longer in a world of hoped-for transparency and openness.
Yes, a very good morning to you. Just in summary, you fear you don't know exactly what's being dredged up. Natural Resources Wales say they're satisfied that they are. I think there certainly needs to be a communication exercise here about sharing knowledge of what has been tested and what will be tested. But if I could just be clear about what you're saying as things stand, with the information that we have, are you saying that there should be no dredging, or that what is being dredged should be put somewhere more benign, just in case, and if so, where?
I would start off by saying that, in the context of a remark I made earlier about the original hypothesis about how marine radioactivity behaves, if the regulators and pro-nuclear Governments believe that sediment-associated radioactivity, when discharged down the pipeline, will associate with sediments in the immediate vicinity of the pipeline, fall to the bottom and become sequestered, i.e. hidden away from exposure to human beings, that's the place where it should be left. If you start digging it up, you make a dredge plume as soon as you start dredging. Anybody can look at the internet and look at a dredge plume and see that, where a dredger is operating and lifting stuff off the seabed, it leaves a long plume of suspended sediment behind it, which then drifts around and is available for exposure to humans and wildlife. Similarly, when you look at dumping—if you look at a dump site, you can see aerial photographs—there's a similar mechanism taking place. So, dredging and disposal at sea allows the material to disperse.
The original theory of Governments and nuclear industry was that, if you let it bond to the sediments at the end of the pipeline, it'll stay there—most of it will stay there. It's now been agreed that, if you have an earthquake or if you have a trawler go through there dragging a net, there are numbers of mechanisms that can disturb that. But, by and large, the rubbish stays where it's fallen on the seabed.
A lot of Bridgwater bay is intertidal, but a significant amount is subtidal as well, so it's away from human beings. So, I would say, No. 1, leave it where it is and that's the safest option. In a situation like this, where you have a dichotomous demand—you want to build the station, you've got to do the dredging—then I would say don't put it into somebody's inshore waters, because we know that inshore waters react intimately and intricately with not only the shoreline, but also the coastal zone. You can read, for instance, many scientific stories—and they're all on the internet as well—about how salt from the sea will blow inland and mess up electricity lines up to 50 or 100 miles inland. I first got interested in sea-to-land transfer because I came upon a study in Texas where people were having a chest infection called [Inaudible.] disease. Actually, when the epidemiologists got on to it, they found that up to 100 miles inland, this was a marine micro-organism blowing inshore and giving people chest infections 100 miles inland. So, you know, these mechanisms really, really exist and it's much better to not run the risk of exposures and sea-to-land transfer.
I would say leave it where it is. If you've got to take it out, maybe it should be put in a hole in the ground and capped and covered. Again, I have been told off the record—perhaps the committee might have the opportunity to explore this with later people who you're going to be meeting—I have been told, as I say, off the record, that the original proposal was to take this stuff and put it on a land site but that Natural England said, 'No way. You can't do that.' I'm just relaying this to you and I agree that's circumstantial, but if I had the opportunity to ask EDF or the marine management organisation who dealt with the dredging application on the English side, that is a question I would ask. Did that happen, and if it did happen, what were the reasons that Natural England said, 'We don't want it on land'? That may be a false alarm but that was something that I was told. I'm personally very interested to know if that happened and, if so, why the decision was taken to put it into Cardiff Grounds rather than somewhere further offshore, where we could feel that, if it was to be dispersed, it would be more widely dispersed into a bigger sea area, like the Atlantic rather than the Bristol channel. I hope that answers that.
That's really useful. Thank you very much.
Have you finished, Rhun? Neil, we're mindful of the time now, so—.
Yes. It's not actually a question for Mr Deere-Jones; it's a serious observation about which I've asked questions before but have had no answers. Page 79, and it's the letter from Natural Resources Wales. What I really don't appreciate is the vagueness:
'We understand that the Welsh Government, as appropriate authority, took the decision that it was not necessary to determine this application under the Environmental Impact Assessment process.'
Now, I'm not interested in knowing whether they understand something; it's either a fact or it isn't. The key point here, which implicates the Government, is that the Government Minister at the time, if I'm correct, was a former lobbyist for the nuclear industry, so did he declare an interest? This committee—the Assembly really needs to know that. I think that's one question that needs to be asked.
Fine. Thank you. Janet, on this.
Can I just say, Wales boasts a fantastic marine university, which does a lot with marine conservation and things, at Bangor University? Should NRW or Welsh Government be looking to commission a piece of work? Do they do anything in this field?
Yes. There are independent researchers who are academics who are not attached to nuclear industry. A lot of nuclear departments are funded by the nuclear industry and there have been conflicts of interest. I know that people working at Sizewell were trying to—campaigners from my end of the—
I suppose my question, sorry, is: is there the expertise within Bangor University for them to commission any studies?
There has been. I'm not sure of the current situation, but I do know I have had communications with a particular academic there in the past, Dr Assinder, who has been extremely helpful and provided me with very good information, and plainly is independent although skilled and qualified and deeply knowledgeable. I know there are people in Exeter University and probably other universities as well. I do agree that independent academics and also independent practitioners like me could usefully contribute to an open and public debate. And shutting us out and keeping—. Because I see that these letters from NRW and Lesley Griffiths refer to consultations, but if you look at the consultants, or the people who have been the consultees who have been consulted, the organisations are attached to a pro-nuclear Government. So, you've got your Environment Agency, and I wouldn't expect the Environment Agency to have a madly independent view because, as I said, their head people are imported in from the nuclear industry—some of them have come straight from British Nuclear Fuels Limited—and we see the same in Government departments. So, I've sat on liaison stakeholder groups between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and campaigners, and there are always shadowy people who come from the nuclear industry who are there as advisers. And I understand that people need advisers, but it's no longer necessary to go entirely to the nuclear industry for those advisers.
I understand what you're saying, yes.
And that's the one thing I would say. Let's—
Just for your interest, I have raised concerns in the past about how marine permit licences are given out and how enforcement is then taken forward where those licence conditions are broken, and I still have those remaining concerns.
Just to add onto that, I spoke to south Glamorgan council, some time after the petition was launched, about this issue, and their major complaint was that when EDF came to them with the proposal to dump and dispose, south Glamorgan council could not find an independent view on the radioactivity. There was no Welsh Government radiological expertise. There was no radiological expertise to be had by south Glamorgan or Gwent, and this was an issue that concerned them deeply. The only radiological expertise they had was from EDF.
Right. Mr Deere-Jones, obviously, we're very time limited now, and we just want to round up a little if we can. Now, obviously, the very word 'radioactivity' is an emotive word or phrase in itself. We've had a great deal of evidence from you—and thank you for that—with regard to nuclides et cetera, but the general public would not understand exactly what those sort of things are, or the levels of exposure likely to cause any harm to us. So, are you contending that there is little risk, some risk or substantial risk both to marine life and to human life with regard to the disturbance of this material at Hinkley Point and the dumping of it? Where would you put the risk to—?
Right. I haven't addressed the issue of marine life. I would rather leave that to a marine biologist who understands, in greater depth, the marine biological aspects of this, but what I work on is the fact that now the most widely used theoretical dose-response model is called the LNT radiation dose model. That's the linear no-threshold—you've probably come upon this phrase before—and really, basically, what that is saying is that there is no safe dose—that any dose of radioactivity will have some effect and that it's important to remember that not all human beings are the same. A lot of dose-response work, in the past certainly—generalised work—has been based on a young healthy male in about his 30s, which is something like a typical soldier. There has been a lot less work done on the impact of radioactivity on sick people, on very old people, on very young people, and people in utero. And given that this linear no-threshold model implies that there is no safe level, because any dose may have an effect, particularly on a population-wide basis—and I see that that is consensually used across the world—that leads me to think that there is no safe dose, therefore we should be extremely cautious about how we dispose of and what risks we take in terms of diffusing and dispersing our radioactivity, particularly into near-coastal environments, in the context of sea-to-land transfer, which, as far as I'm concerned, is completely and utterly proved to be a mechanism that takes place, but sadly and very negligently hasn't been given the research attention that it should.
And as a very last point: where radiation is occurring naturally within the rock sediments, et cetera, how does this lie with regard to that and the actual extent that you feel this is—? Is it far greater than that naturally occurring, or—?
Well, I'm afraid to say that I have a fairly high degree of distrust and even contempt for such statements from industry. First of all, anybody can look at, say, radon, or you can look at studies from places like Kerala in southern India where there is a lot of background radioactivity and you can see that natural background radioactivity does indeed cause harm, but it doesn't seem to cause quite the level of harm as some of the man-made's. And I think that this is due to the fact that the natural radioactivity has been there since the year dot, and we, as species living on the planet, have all evolved in that context. But we haven't evolved in the context of plutonium, americium or caesium-137. So, I would say that we probably have an evolutionary advantage or—yes, an evolutionary advantage—in respect of dealing with natural radioactive materials like the much-famed potassium-40 that you find in Brazil nuts or solar radiation that we all experience; even though we're not all airline pilots, we can still experience some of it on ground level. But the man-made stuff has only been here at best for 100 years, and we haven't had an opportunity to evolve physically to respond to that. So, that's my comment.
Fine. Okay, well thank you very much—
—Tim Deere-Jones for coming and answering our questions so comprehensively. Thank you very much for that, and obviously you will be able to see a transcript of your answers, et cetera, and, as you know, we follow on now with an evidence session from the other side of the argument, actually. So, if you'd like to watch that, obviously, you're able to do that.
Okay, well, in conclusion, I am still in the process of producing a written document, but you may have gathered from my last submissions that I have had some personal family issues and it's been a very difficult period, and I haven't yet completed all of that documentation. One other thing that I would just like to add in, I noticed with some surprise that EDF were invited to make a submission to the climate change committee. Nobody's asked us whether we would like to make a submission to that committee, and in terms of balance and unbalance, that's another example of something that we feel is unfair and we would welcome the opportunity if that committee should feel like inviting us to make a submission.
Right. I'll make absolutely certain that those comments are carried through to that committee so that they can make the recommendations, but thank you very much again for your evidence. Obviously, based on the evidence you've given us and the following evidence that we will have, the committee will see how it wishes to proceed on the matter.
Thank you very much. Committee, thank you for listening to me. Chairman, thank you for your assistance and direction. All right, good morning.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:03 a 10:06.
The meeting adjourned between 10:03 and 10:06.
Bore da. Good morning. I will remind you that you can give your answers—or questions, if you want to ask questions—in either Welsh or English. There are translation headsets there, available for your use. Are you happy, and do you know how to use them at all, or would you like some instruction? Okay. Thank you.
So, welcome to the Petitions Committee. We usually have several questions that we will ask you during the process of this committee meeting. But if you'd like to make an opening statement before we commence, by all means you can indeed. Perhaps you'd like to introduce your colleagues and just let us know their positions with regard to yourself.
Thank you very much, Chair. Good morning, committee. My name's Chris Fayers. I'm head of environment for EDF Energy. My colleague on my right is Pete.
I'm a radioactive waste adviser for EDF Energy.
And I'm Stephen Roast. I'm a marine technical specialist for EDF Energy.
Fine. Thank you very much.
So, good morning, committee. Can I start by thanking the committee for inviting us here today? We know your constituents are concerned abut this issue, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you. We're here to give you the facts about what we plan to do, to share scientific evidence and to address some of the inaccurate claims that have been made in the petition.
What we plan to do is to move mud from one part of the Bristol channel to another. Many other companies do this on a daily basis and have done so for many decades. It is the same mud that you will find anywhere in the Bristol channel and other parts of the UK coast. However, the petition raises concerns about the nature of that mud. It has been referred to, inaccurately, as radioactive, nuclear and toxic waste, and that there may be risks to human health or the environment. The petition also claims that the testing is insufficient.
I want to be completely clear today: all these claims are wrong, alarmist, and go against all internationally accepted scientific evidence. It is not radioactive and it poses no threat to human health or the environment. We know this because we have tested it independently three times using world-leading equipment to highly conservative standards. These standards are supported by Natural Resources Wales, Public Health Wales, the Environment Agency, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the UK Government and the United Nations.
The petition fundamentally challenges the expertise of all these organisations. It takes issue with internationally accepted scientific practice, applied by international organisations and leading research and academic institutions. I would urge the committee to look at the scientific facts and the rigorous testing and licensing process we've been through. We are here to explain the facts, and in doing so I hope to reassure you and your constituents that this licence does not need to be suspended. Thank you.
Fine. Perhaps for clarity, could you explain to us why this material is being dredged, the nature of the sediment and the associated sediment transportation system in the Severn estuary and the Bristol channel, and the selection of Cardiff Grounds disposal site? And, could you set out the consenting timeline of your marine licence application?
Okay. So, simply to answer the question, 'Why are we dredging?', we're dredging because we have to place large concrete structures on the seabed as part of what we're calling a water intake system. So, the dredging is simply to create a solid base to place those large concrete heads. Stephen can talk to you in a little bit more detail about the consenting process we've been through.
So, obviously, as part of the main planning application for Hinkley Point C we needed two marine licences for this particular element. One was from the Marine Management Organisation for jurisdiction on the English side of the estuary for doing the dredging itself, and then the second one was from Natural Resources Wales for the disposal of the sediment. The development consent application at Hinkley was made in October 2011. There was then a year's worth of determination and examination. The marine licence applications were made to Natural Resources Wales in September 2012, and the initial decision to give that consent was made in April 2014 [Correction: July 2014].
Very quickly, why use the Cardiff Grounds?
Pretty much everything to the east of Hinkley Point is a special area of conservation, so it's protected under the habitats regulations. And the sediment within that system is a conservation feature of the estuary itself and provides an ecological role to the estuary. As part of the habitats regulations assessment, in consultation with Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, as it was at the time, Environment Agency, et cetera, the material needed to be kept within the SAC because of that particular role that it plays in ecology. Cardiff Grounds is the only site within the SAC that was large enough to take the volume, and as I'm sure we'll get to later on, the assessment demonstrated that the material was absolutely suitable for disposal to sea. So, it was the only site that was already designated and licensed for taking that kind of volume and type of material, and it was within the SAC, and that was the approved method throughout all the consultation.
Just to say, the usual format of these inquiries is that I will ask my colleagues on the committee to ask several questions to you, but some of them may want to come in with supplementary questions to that. Do you understand that situation? So, Neil, would you like to carry on with the questions?
Yes. Just following on from what the witness said earlier, the first question is: how many radionuclides were tested for?
Perhaps I'll answer that one. So, basically the testing was done by CEFAS. They would have used something called high-purity germanium detection. It sounds very complicated, but in essence each radionuclide normally emits a gamma ray, which is a byproduct of alpha and beta decay. That's always at a specific energy, and that energy is like a signature that says, 'This particular radionuclide has emitted an emission of radioactivity.' So, the high-purity germanium detection system looks across all the energy range, really, so wherever there's a peak that corresponds to a particular radionuclide. So, you detect actually what's present, and so it will detect way above 50 plus different types of radionuclides that occur in the environment. So, it is very much looking for the signature of radionuclide: rather than just going, 'I'm going to target these three or four'; it goes, 'I look across the entire range of energies and I detect exactly what's present.'
So, in effect, all the man-made radionuclides were tested for through that process.
Yes, and it won't distinguish between natural radionuclides or man-made, because radiation itself is just energy; it doesn't matter whether it's naturally occurring or if it's artificial. It is basically just energy being emitted, so the human body doesn't distinguish between the two and the detectors don't distinguish between the two, so it detects a whole range of radionuclides.
What studies exist in the wider channel of the mud?
Can you clarify what you mean by 'wider'?
The wider channel, because I was led to believe when we met a month or so ago, that there is no difference between the quality or content of the mud outside Hinkley Point as to anywhere else in the channel.
There is monitoring data available, as you've heard previously, through the radioactivity in food and the environment reports. So, the RIFE reports publish annually publicly available information that's out there available to everybody—details of monitoring that's undertaken throughout the Bristol channel and throughout the coast of the UK, and those results are remarkably similar around the UK and around the Bristol channel.
Was land disposal considered?
No. For the very same reason that it needed to remain within the estuary. And, from the analysis, there was no reason why it shouldn't be.
I just wanted to deal with the samples below 5 cm. You said you tested down to, was it, 4.8m, and nothing was detected below 2m. So, how many samples were done, and where were they? The last witness said that they were 3m to 5m—from notes—and he said the pipeline is between 5 km and 6 km and that was where the samples were done.
Yes. So, the cores—to be very clear, the cores were taken for a number of reasons. Some of that was geotechnical, for the alignment of the tunnels. But, to be very clear, we're not dredging. The tunnels are drilled under the rock; we're not dredging that area, we're just dredging the area where the concrete intake and our outfall heads would be, which is the data that were presented in those analyses. The other samples weren't part of the application, because we're not dredging in that area. It's just where we're placing the heads.
So, what area is being, in terms of, you know—? What's the total area being dredged? How big is it?
So, around each intake head, there is quite a—. Obviously, sediment in the Severn estuary is—. It's a highly dynamic environment, so we do need to clear quite a large area. And the current assessment in terms of the assessment that was made was about 100 sq m. The intake heads are longer than the outfalls are. They're a slightly different shape, so there's slightly more dredging required for those.
So, it's going to be dredged 100m by 100m, or—
It would be something like that. I don't—. To be perfectly honest, I can't remember what the actual footprint is, but, in terms of the volume, that's exactly what we've applied for in the licence itself.
Has there been analysis of other chemicals? On page 75, we're told that there are other harmful substances. So, I'm just wondering whether or not they were present. It was alledged that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and organochlorines, tributyltin, mercury, cadmium and so on—.
So, yes, you're absolutely right. And, again, as part of the actual licensing assessment process we are required to assess for those and demonstrate those. In terms of the non-radio, so the organics and the trace metals as well, there are different processes. There are what are called 'action levels' by CEFAS, which set thresholds for these. There's an action level 1, below which, typically, the concentrations are deemed to be entirely safe, above 2, absolutely not, and, between 1 and 2, there is the potential to take further investigation. The reason—. And, certainly, some of the ones from the Hinkley dredge site are above the action level 1, but considerably below the action level 2, and also reflective of other concentrations elsewhere in the estuary. So, the assessment was made, looking at that, those that did go beyond the action level 1, but, in terms of that further assessment, the concentrations are still in orders of magnitude below the action level 2.
And, as we've said previously, obviously the Severn estuary has a long legacy of industrial development and sediments moving around within the estuary, and therefore it's not really anything like a pristine estuary because of all of the development that takes place along the coast.
So, the mud that's being dumped, then, will contain sediments containing, as you said, those pollutants, which do have an action level.
So, yes. So—
What action was taken, then?
So, the assessment then is made in terms of comparing them (a) in terms of the relative concentrations elsewhere in the estuary and also in terms of the proximity to the action level above that. And these are considerably—. Although they breach action level 1, for some of them, it's quite a small breach—it's certainly orders of magnitude below the level where you'd say 'absolutely not', and, as I say, they're reflective of concentrations across the estuary.
So, action taken—.
So, that further—
Because I'm just looking at the letter here from a number of organisations and they say that they exceeded action levels. I recognise you say they only just exceeded those action levels, but it says that no action was taken. It says that:
'The presence of these compounds is known to cause long-term if not permanent harm to sea life that affects the entire food chain.'
Would there be any transfer—we heard earlier about sea-to-land transfer—of such to land?
The sea-to-land transfer is a known phenomenon, but that is included in the modelling that was used to address and understand the impact of this activity. So, that is all included in the modelling that has been done.
But there was no particular environmental impact for this particular action though, was there—the dumping itself. The only environmental impact that has taken place has been for the whole project.
We've looked at the impacts of this activity. There was a particular assessment done of this activity in terms of looking at what is the impact on human health of this activity. So, that has been undertaken.
But there's not been an environmental impact assessment for this particular dredging.
There's been an environmental impact assessment undertaken of the whole development of Hinkley Point C, which would include a number of issues.
Okay. I'll come back on that.
Fine. Mike, would you like to—?
I'm going to quote two things from the petitioner. The first one is
'the actual aggregated radioactivity content of the sediments will'—
And I think the key word is 'will'—
'be much higher than indicated by the available analysis.'
How do you respond to that?
So, first of all, you have to look at what the models assumed and what actually we're doing. So, we're not just removing the top few centimeters of sediment as part of this dredge—we're moving actually to quite a bit of depth. So, anything you move is a mixture—it's an average of what you've got at the top and all the way through up to that depth.
Now, below 2m, you don't detect any anthropogenical or any man-made radionuclides. That's really just due to the fact that it takes time for it actually to build up over a time period. So, if you look at it, there'll be a profile almost, going through the sediment, of the history of radioactive discharges in it.
So, because we've sampled at various different depths as part of this work, initially in 2009, the reason we focused very much on the surface sediments—so, those top few centimeters for instance—in the later analysis is because that is a more bounding estimate. Because you've got the actual radioactive discharges there from the nuclear industry discharge period at those top levels, by assuming those concentration levels in the model, you're looking at what's naturally occurring and what are also man-made contributions. If you're assessing the impacts just from assuming that it's all at that concentration at the top, when, in fact, you've got to be taking some from the top and a lot from the bottom, it's actually a very conservative look at the radiological impacts to the environment and to human health. So, the assessment is inherently, by its nature, very conservative.
I think the point that the petitioner was making, and I think you may have heard him, was that below 5 cm—he says that, in the Irish sea,
'at depths below 5cms, radioactivity concentrations may be up to 5 times higher.'
Do you recognise those numbers?
We will recognise exactly what's been measured rather than actually try and extrapolate from another scenario. In this case here, we've detected what we've detected, or, actually, rather, CEFAS have detected what they have detected, and that's an actual measurement.
Okay. Thank you.
The petitioner also said that below the top, the—. What was taken out as a sample up to that 4m depth was mixed together as a soup and an average found for measurements. Could you explain what happened?
So, in the actual samples taken, they haven't quite done it like that. They'll take a range—so, say between 4m and 4.8m, and they will have mixed that part together and used that as analysis, but they haven't done it throughout the whole depth column; it's just for a period. So, there are some results at the surface level, some results in the mid level, some results at the very bottom, 4.8m to 4m level, as well.
Each of those, basically, as the petitioner said, gets mixed together. They run what is known as a gamma-ray spectroscopy on it and from that you detect what's present in there as an average concentration of that depth profile, so to say.
I think the important thing to think about there is: does that represent what's happening as part of the dredging and what happens in the environment? The dredging will mix it all up, so, effectively, you're analysing, you're modelling, exactly what is going to happen to that sediment, because the dredging isn't going to take it off millimetre by millimetre, it's going to take it off in a big lump.
It's kind of important to know what's down there in as much detail as possible.
Yes, and that's the data we have. We have data going down to 4.8m.
Okay. I'm sure you accept that people have questions that they want answered. You might not like the fact that some questions have been asked in some ways—but certainly many people feel the need to be satisfied that what is happening is going to be safe for them. Where should they look for that security of knowledge?
I think it is very important that people do ask questions and do get answers. It's very important to us. I know, if I was in a similar situation, I'd want to know that processes like this happen and people are held to account. It's very important. We ourselves, we've been to talk to Welsh Assembly Members already, we've spoken to local councillors, we've got a meeting with Cardiff council later today, we have provided briefing material, and we are putting briefing material on our website that will demonstrate what it is we're doing and why what we're doing is safe. I think that's very important. I think people should seek reassurance from their regulator, Natural Resources Wales, and Public Health Wales can also provide an independent view. We try to present the facts and the science behind this.
What about a full environmental impact assessment, specifically about this piece of work, which Welsh Government decided wasn't necessary? Would that perhaps give people the answers that they're looking for?
The questions seem to be around the radioactivity, and that has been looked at in detail using internationally recognised models. So, that has been, and was part of the licence application.
Can I just come in on that one? Do you mind? But that work has been commissioned, really, on behalf of the company, rather than independently.
Not entirely. A number of those assessments were actually commissioned by Natural Resources Wales.
That work was undertaken by CEFAS, who are independent of us. They are the UK's—
Yes, they're a UK executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
And they are the recognised experts in the UK for this sort of marine radioactivity model.
Okay. There are a huge number of licence conditions on this. Have there been any breaches to any of these licensing conditions to date that you're aware of, however minor?
Breaches, no, because a lot of them are—
Where they haven't been upheld—you know, even down to the name of the master of the vessel has to be provided.
Yes, absolutely, but, of course, we haven't started the work yet. So, some of them are pre-commencement, in terms of we need to—. For example, the monitoring plan that we provided and had approved. The works themselves haven't started yet, so we're not yet able to provide the kind of day-to-day running of it. So, absolutely not, there haven't been any breaches whatsoever.
And when do you envisage that it's going to start?
So, the dredging, on the current programme, is due to start next summer.
What about other schemes elsewhere—I'm asking now purely out of interest—are you aware that there have been breaches of other licence conditions yourselves in other operations that you may have been involved with?
In other work, similar to this, elsewhere in England—because there are a lot of conditions here, and how you police these, if you like, can be quite intensive, time intensive, on the regulators.
I don't think it would be right for us to comment on other licences that may have been breached by other organisations.
No, I meant for works that you've been involved with.
This is the only one we have.
Right, okay. Fair enough.
There isn't any other marine licence we have.
What are your thoughts on the theories of sea-to-land transfer that the petitioner has discussed, and the specific evidence that he points to that what we may think of as being safely stowed away in the sea can actually end up affecting people inland, and many miles inland?
So, basically the model that was undertaken by CEFAS—what they do is they look at the radiological concentration of a sediment and then they run it through a model. This model is an International Atomic Energy Agency model, but it's had input from a variety of other international scientific organisations and it's accepted as international scientific consensus in this area.
Sea-to-land transfer is a well-known pathway, and in fact that's why it's included within that model, so it's already assessed within the CEFAS report, which is in the public domain. And what that shows is that even including that pathway, the radiological impacts are so low that, in broad terms, it correlates to 750 times less than the average radon dose in Pembrokeshire. It's really, really infinitesimal radiological contributions to what's already existing there.
Sorry, I'll carry on if I can. How then is the actual dredging work monitored to ensure that what, if you like, is being dredged up matches what has been found through drilling beforehand and taking samples beforehand? And how do you communicate during that process of dredging to people who are concerned about what's going on?
So, in terms of the dredging work itself, obviously the master of the vessel needs to provide, in fact through ourselves, to NRW volumes and what have you in terms of the dredging activity itself. We're not required to do any future chemical testing. As we've said before, the dredging itself in places will go right down to bedrock, so a lot of that is very heavily consolidated and hasn't moved for many, many years and so we're not required to do any other chemical testing on that material. In terms of how that's made available to other people, that will be a formal return as one of the licence conditions to NRW and that should be placed on the public register and then is available to anybody who wants to interrogate it.
Wouldn't volunteering to make a chemical analysis of what's being dredged be quite a useful approach here, when so much of this is about communication, essentially?
In terms of—
The licence we've got doesn't require us to do that.
I fully understand that. I'm talking about persuading the public that what you're doing is safe when they are at a point when they doubt whether the licensing process has been up to scratch.
I think the point on that is the results genuinely would not be any different and there's a logistical thing there in terms—obviously we've got a crew out there dredging and then we're sending samples off for analysis and, no doubt, interrogation by whoever wants to. That process then—we've got a vessel out in the channel with all that sediment standing idle until that conversation's been had. The bottom line is the results won't be any different. I think one of the issues we're talking about here is the assessment process itself. If we were to reassess it, we'd be using exactly the same process, so the results wouldn't be any different and we'd still have that conflict in terms of whether the assessment process itself is acceptable.
Which I guess leaves you with the other option of doing a little bit more testing now and publishing the information in an even more public, an even more open way, and showing people, 'We have responded to your concerns.' And, yes, 'We can't do it during the dredging; it would be too costly, it would be too time-consuming.' Let's do it now when you've got the time. It wouldn't cost that much money.
And that's what we are doing. We took samples in 2009, in 2013 and we've taken them again in 2017. Those will be published shortly. The previous data is available publicly—it has been—so that information will be made public. It's going through final checks and quality assurance work.
The 2017 data, though—it's 5cm, isn't it, it's not the lower depth?
I probably should declare an interest because I'm a Cardiff councillor as well. Would you have any objection to Cardiff council undertaking more independent assessments, at depth, of the area?
Well, we've said before, we were happy for people to take the sediment samples we have and look at those and have them reanalysed, but the important thing to remember is: they've been analysed by the UK's leading laboratory in this. You're not going to find anything different, and it's important that the analysis you do is comparable, because there isn't the expertise in many other places in the UK to undertake that analysis.
You've only taken five samples in a whole—. Was it five or three in the whole area—below 5cm?
Can I, just on that point, Neil—? It's a good point. In NRW's own response, it states here:
'NRW is satisfied that no further analysis of samples from beneath the surface is necessary, because of the sampling that was undertaken at various depths in 2009.'
So, it doesn't mention 2013. They are relying on 2009. That's quite a—you know, it's quite a while ago.
I think the important thing to remember about the analysis—
Is that a very vague response, then, from NRW?
No, not at all. It's very accurate. It's important to remember that the samples taken at depth, as the petitioner mentioned earlier, won't change, because those sediments at depth are stable and have been there for quite some time. So, if we go back and look again, we'll find exactly what we found. It won't have changed.
I suppose the question is, to people who are not experts in this field—. Rhun referred to it as 'soup', but when you start mixing things up, surely things can change.
The key thing you've got to remember there is that what you're mixing up is what's at the lower parts of it, which is all natural radioactivity, and then the upper levels are really when you've got an element of naturally occurring radioactivity and a small part of anthropogenic—man-made—radioactivity in there. When you mix it up, noting that we've assumed the worst, namely the top part of it, which includes the man-made contribution—the assessment that's done doesn't just model the impacts of exposure to the artificials; it looks at the artificials and the naturals. If you then mix some more naturals at a similar concentration to what's already there, you're diluting it, so the impacts become less than what we've already assessed. So, you're basically taking what's already a pessimistic or conservative assessment, and what we're going to be doing is actually going to be diluting that further and actually lowering that potential impact.
So, my final point, then: given that this issue has found its way to an Assembly committee and concerns are being raised by AMs, concerns are being raised, from what I understand, elsewhere, and of course our constituents, and somebody who is very qualified has raised a petition on this, what is the problem with a temporary licence suspension, just so that some other kind of analysis could be carried out in order to put those fears to rest?
The analysis that has been undertaken is rigorous and conservative, as Peter's already said.
If it's not going to happen until next year, what is a calendar month out of the whole scheme of things, for a temporary licence suspension? As a company, would you not want the public, Assembly Members, to feel reassured and say, 'Do you know what? For the sake of a calendar month, we would agree to it.'
We do want to reassure the public, but as I've said, I think—
Then why would you not support a month's temporary licence suspension?
I think, as Natural Resources Wales have said, as the issue with the licence, they see no reason to suspend this licence.
I'm asking what you as a company, now, in terms of public relations, good customer relations, good work with the Government—. The fact that it's found its way here and we're asking questions of the nature that we are asking, as a big company, I would have thought it would be in your interests to support those concerns and think, 'Well, this isn't going to go away, and we want to work, we want to take the people with us.'
We do support those concerns, and that's why we're here today, that's why we've provided briefing material and we will continue to do that, and we will publish information on our website that details what we're planning to do and why.
Okay, then, a simple 'yes' or 'no': would you be totally against one calendar month's temporary licence suspension for some kind of work to take place?
The licence suspension in the hands of Natural Resources Wales. It's not in the hands of the company.
I think it's important to note that we're doing that, obviously. We're doing a 2017 assessment, which is to go to NRW, and within that, that's to help reassure them and to give them confidence that the sediment is no different to what they tested in 2013. So, if they find anything there that they're particularly concerned about, then they can use that to inform their decision. They have the mechanisms and the checks in place already, as part of a regulatory process, to ensure they are comfortable with the assessment of the nature of the sediment. So, I think there's a degree of noting the fact that we have done this additional testing—that is going to go to NRW, they will make a decision based on that as to whether we can continue forward, and it should be following that regulatory process.
And you believe NRW have the expertise and the skill of the personnel involved to actually deal with this?
Yes, we do.
Just again trying to get answers from you to as many of the questions posed by the petitioner as possible: do you agree with his assessment that there was more radioactive release in the past than there is now, say, in the 1970s/1980s? Would that be the case?
Those radioactivity releases in the past were not to do with our current operations; they're clearly from other operators, but I would comment that discharges in the past were higher than they are today.
At what depth are those sediments from those years of increased releases?
It will depend on the precise marine environment. You're talking about whether we're talking about the Irish sea or the Bristol channel—
Obviously, I'm talking about the Bristol channel.
So, for the Bristol channel, we didn't detect any artificial radioactivity below 2m in that analysis.
And there's only one instance of actually any artificial radionuclides below a depth of 1m. So, really, it's predominantly confined in the first 1m, and then a little bit down further—there was one instance where there was a single anthropogenic detected.
Okay. It's a very dynamic area, the sea bed. Could you have changes from 20m stretches to 20m stretches, depending on current flows in those particular areas?
Potentially. Obviously it's a very highly dynamic tidal environment; it has the second largest tide in the world. So, obviously, the flow's typically east to west and that is fairly well defined. That's the water just moving around Bridgwater bay—there is some kind of gyre in there but not a huge amount. So, yes, clearly, within those kind of 20m to 20m, yes, there will be differences when you get to, sort of, a 100m to a 100m—then, obviously, it's less pronounced. I think one thing here also is that the works that we're doing are at least 2 km north of the existing discharge point, which does typically flow east-west.
Given that— . Would testing in 2017—it'll be 2018 now, presumably—up to 1m in a few more areas be a means of giving people the satisfaction that they're—? Assuming you're confident that the measures won't be any different, and we'll take that as a given—you don't believe there is a problem there; it's about telling people that there's no problem there—would testing down to 1m now be a way to show this and, 'We're going the extra mile to give you the information that you need'?
Potentially, yes, but, as I say, I think that one of the issues that we're still talking about here is the assessment process in itself, so any further testing would be presented, analysed and modelled in exactly the same way as we have done, and I think that approach is actually one of the key issues in terms of the petition itself. It's not the assessment—obviously part of it is that—but there's a real criticism there of the overall model et cetera that's being used, and we would clearly use that same—because that is the internationally accepted means to do so.
We understand that there are further sedimentary analysis and other reports that have to go to NRW before they actually issue the licence to actually dredge. Is that right?
Yes, it is.
Could this not be, sort of, incorporated in that further analysis? And the other side of it is: when do you actually expect—because NRW are awaiting those reports, aren't they? When are they likely to be available?
They are. So, the report is—. So, the sampling was done in May this year. The report was drafted throughout the summer, and it is pretty much ready to go. The only reason it's not been issued is in case we need it to address anything from, obviously, these discussions. But it will be with NRW by the end of the week.
Okay. Briefly, then, Neil.
How long does it take for 5cm to accumulate?
Five centimetres? So, one of the issues in terms of the estuary that we've already discussed is that it is moving around a lot. So, in terms of the top 5 cm, that would be moving around pretty much on a daily basis, to be honest, sort of up and down the estuary. The deeper consolidated stuff tends to settle under the weight of the material above it, but given that the tidal velocities are upwards of 1.5 m/s and it is extremely sediment-rich anyway—as part of our studies also, we've recorded sediment levels of more than a gram per litre. During the recent survey this summer for removing unexploded ordnance, the divers have confirmed that they can barely see in front of their faces—it's a muddy soup.
Just really quickly, if new testing was done, for example commissioned by Cardiff council, how long would that take?
From start to finish, obviously, the sampling plan would need to be drafted up and approved, the vessel procured et cetera, samples back across to CEFAS, so, typically, from our experience, it is more than a month; from the initial start to having the reports done it's several months, I would say—two or three.
I think it would be important to remember that, if you are considering doing that sort of thing, you need to be rigorously reviewed and assessed beforehand to make sure you get the right answer. It's really important that you ask the right question.
Is there a right answer?