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Safety a ‘top priority’ for anti-nuclear groups seeking answers on nuclear rail transport

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities have joined with the Close Capenhurst Campaign, Highlands against Nuclear Transport (HANT) and Radiation Free Lakeland to highlight the issue of safety in nuclear rail transport in the UK.

For many years, Close Capenhurst, HANT, and Radiation Free Lakeland have raised issues of concern relating to the rail transportation of nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, particularly in relation to train movements in the North-West of England and from the former Dounreay plant on the North Scottish coast. The NFLA published its own analysis of the rail, sea and road transport of nuclear materials in June 2021[i], with member authorities expressing concerns about such movements through their own areas.

Although nuclear rail transport has a good record, the hazardous nature of the cargoes carried, and the consequences of any accident, means that all four organisations have resolved to work together to raise questions about safety standards and accident preparedness in the industry. They have today sent a joint question set to the head of Direct Rail Services (DRS), Chris Connolly, asking for answers on a range of safety issues, and it is hoped this will also open a dialogue with industry leaders.

Direct Rail Services (DRS) was established in 1995 as ‘lead supplier of rail transport and associated services to the nuclear industry’[ii]. In 2021, DRS was brought under the umbrella of Nuclear Transport Services (NTS), a new division of the restructured Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) responsible for the transportation of nuclear materials by rail, road, sea and air. The NDA is the publicly funded body responsible for decommissioning Britain’s old nuclear power stations and moving and managing spent fuel, radioactive waste and other materials from operational or redundant nuclear plants to storage at Sellafield or Drigg, both on the West Cumbrian coast. New nuclear fuel rods and materials are also transported from operating plants from manufacturing facilities at Capenhurst, near Chester, and Springfields, near Preston.

Commenting on the latest initiative, the Chair of the NFLA Steering Committee, Councillor David Blackburn, said: “All of our organisations are opposed to civil nuclear power generation, and so nuclear waste, but we are pragmatic; we cannot simply magic ‘nuclear away’.  Although the case for renewables rather than nuclear – on the grounds of cost, time, practicality and safety – becomes stronger every day, the present government remains intent on building new nuclear power plants and keeping existing plants online for several years yet, and the decommissioning of closed stations will take many decades to complete. Consequently, there shall continue to be nuclear fuel rods and nuclear waste in transit for many years to come.

“We intend our questions to provoke debate and to open a dialogue between ourselves as campaigners opposed to nuclear power and those in the industry who are responsible for nuclear rail transportation. For when it comes to safety, it is best to talk. The absolute priority for all concerned about nuclear transport – whether for or against nuclear power – must be to ensure the best possible safety standards are maintained in the industry, for the well-being of the public, for NTS staff, and for our natural environment, for so long as the transport of these materials continues, whilst, for our part, we continue to work for the eventual elimination of nuclear power.”

The NFLA intends to publish a full Briefing of the responses and the dialogue in due course.

September 6, 2022 - Posted by | safety, UK

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