Anti-nuke campaigners question plan to fly enriched uranium from Scotland to US

© Alex Domanski
Peace campaigners launched an action on Wednesday against government plans to transport acutely radioactive enriched uranium on specially designated planes from Scotland to America without any public consultation.

Manchester-based group Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), which is behind the action, says that flights from Wick John O’Groats airport in northeast Scotland will be the first to carry such radioactive materials out of the UK. 

The NFLA works to address perceived problems posed by military and civil nuclear hazards. A local government voice on nuclear concerns, it encourages councils to adopt an anti-nuclear stance in policy making.

The group has expressed deep frustration over Westminster’s decision to spend taxpayers’ money on upgrading the airport’s runway to prepare it for transporting the radioactive payload. The construction work, which is being managed by the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), will cost in the region of £8 million (about US$11.45 million).

The US-UK deal was brokered at the recent Global Nuclear Summit, where it was decided that 700kg of enriched uranium would be dispatched from Dounreay in Scotland to the US.

The NFLA suggests it will be sent to the Savannah River site in South Carolina in exchange for a weaker strain of uranium that can assist in fighting cancer. The group argues radioactive substances such as enriched uranium should be stored as near to their point of origin as possible.

Speaking to the BBC, the NDA recently said the specific route for the scheduled flights has not been decided upon.

However, the NFLA has hit back, saying £8 million is a lot for the government to spend on a so-called undecided route. The group is calling for public consultation on the transportation plans. 

“I am very disappointed that despite significant correspondence and meetings between the NFLA and the NDA over the past six months, NFLA finds out yet again of a transport of a large amount of radioactive waste through the media, rather than from the NDA,” said NFLA Chair Councilor Ernie Galsworthy.

“The NDA is fully aware that NFLA members are passionately concerned about the safety of such transports and consider them to be unnecessary, and yet NDA policy continues to move forward to increase transports rather than reduce them. NFLA is particularly alarmed that this transport could take place by air, given the potentially much more problematical issues in the event of an accident or malicious incident.”

Galsworthy went on to question why the uranium couldn’t be stored safely at Dounreay rather than ferried thousands of miles across the Atlantic.

“How does it differ from the material currently being transported to Sellafield? Why should it become the United States’ problem, when the UK created it?” he said.

“Where is that openness and transparency that the NDA continues to talk about? All these questions necessitate a full, open and urgent public consultation from the NDA.”

RT asked Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) why the government feels the need to transfer highly radioactive material to America. The government department said it was unable to comment. 

An MoD spokesperson added: “The transport of Defence nuclear material is carried out to the highest standard in accordance with stringent safety regulations. In over 50 years of transporting Defence nuclear  in the UK, there has never been an incident that has posed any radiation hazard to the public or to the environment.”