The Border town of Newry is being considered as a location to dispose the UK’s nuclear waste, with research identifying the area as potentially suitable for an underground disposal facility. It is one of five sites in Northen Ireland under consideration as possible stores for the waste and among 45 being examined across the United Kingdom as a whole.
An area of granite bedrock near Newry may be suitable for geological disposal facility (GDF), according to a recent preliminary report by Radioactive Waste Management, a UK State-owned company.
The area of rock stretches from Slieve Gullion to the Mourne mountains. Geological disposal sites hold radioactive waste hundreds of meters underground, and there are no current facilities in Northern Ireland. Future policy decisions on nuclear disposal in Northern Ireland rest with the Stormont executive, where power-sharing has been collapsed for more than two years.
The British Government’s current preference is that one facility would service the entire UKm a spokesman for Radioactive Waste Management has said. Any future facility would need the support of the local community before it could be approved.
Nuclear waste is stored at about 30 sites across Britain, but predominantly at ground level at the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.
The recent Radioactive Waste Management said that “there are granites similar to the strong rocks found in Newry, in which we may be able to site a GDF. We would need to do more work to find out whether these rocks have suitable properties and thickness in the depth range of interest for GDF”.
Preliminary reports into other regions of Northern Island found a section of strong rock between Omagh and Cookstown, Co Tyrone, which might support a similar facility. A number of areas in the north of the country could also possibly be suitable, researchers found. These included one location between Belfast and Larne, areas around Colerainem Co Derry and Ballycastle in Co Antrim.
On Monday, an emergency motion was passed at the Newry, Morune and Down District Council, unanimously opposing location any nuclear waste facility in the local area. Some 45 preliminary regional reports had been completed across the UK, assessing what locations might have suitable rock types to build a facility. The reports begun a process that could take 10 to 15 years to identify a suitable area, gain the consent of a local community and build the facility, the RWM spokesman said.
There was a “false narrative” that nuclear waste disposal facilities would be forced on communities, he said. The waste facility will contain multiple barriers to secure the radioactive material underground for hundreds of thousands of years. The British government has also promised communities hosting future facilities significant investment.
Responding to the Newry report, Sinn Fein MP for South Down Chris Hazzard said Britain could not be allowed to use the North “as a dumping ground” for its hazardous and toxic waste. “Not only would this have dire consequences for our environment, but it would also pose a serious health risk to the population” he said.
Fine Gael councillor for Dundalk, Co Louth, John McGahon said the initial report was likely nothing more than a “fishing expedition”. He said the probability of any plan being approved was “extremely remote”. It was important politicians on both sides of the Border were not “asleep on the issue,” but equally that local representatives did not engage in “scaremongering” he said.