From The Westmorland Gazette February 9th 1996
KAREN BARDEN’S PEOPLE
All passion spent at sleepy Cleator Moor
He pulled at his charcoal chequered cardigan and coughed. Clarity was needed. Not a professional inquiry animal, this was only his second and he was fighting bully boy nerves.
Day 62 of the investigation into Nirex plans for an underground testing laboratory at Longlands Farm in the shadow of Sellafield.
South Lakeland protestors were doing their bit. Twenty four had asked for a say, five were selected.
“I’m always on the side of the angels” said Joe Foster of Kendal.
Before any waste is dumped underground, time should be allowed for an earthquake to occur, he argued.
“I’m a grandfather, I worry for the children and for future generations. I’m afraid my heart is ruling my head here.
“At the Windermere inquiry I was for a speed limit. I wasn’t comfortable there either” he confided after a taxing session on the witness stand.
“Earthquakes happen in our area, I felt the after effects of a quake in Carlisle 45 miles away in Kendal.
“It was four in the morning, I woke up when the earth moved.
“The forces involved must have been tremendous, my house weighs hundreds of tons and it shook like a leaf. Ripples must have gone through mountains, streams, lakes and valleys.
“It is essential during scientific testing and observations, time should be allowed for an earthquake to occur.
“It would be too late to wait and see what happened once waste was buried.”
Anita Stirzaker from Bowness belongs to around 15 environmental protection organisations
At 15, selling rock on Blackpool prom, she was mortified to discover red food colouring had been banned, yet a three-year stay of execution was given while stocks were used up.
“I realised then we were on our own, the Government wasn’t there to protect us.”
“The 1957 Windscale fire said it all,” she explained in the soup and sandwich lunchbreak.
“It could have been a terrible tragedy. If water had been doused on the flames just two hours later, a disaster similar to Chernobyl might have happened.
“As it was there was a three day delay in throwing contaminated milk away. This was my country and I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I have questioned everything ever since.”
She had confidently run through her pages of evidence in Cleator Moor’s Civic Hall.
Sitting below a shrub-decked stage on the specially adapted stand, Mrs Stirzaker asked if a nuclear waste dump was established in Cumbria would tourists continue to come?
Tritium already seeps out of trenches onto beaches , she argued.
“This is not a case of not in my back yard. It’s too wet here. There are better places Nirex has admitted it.
“I wish I didn’t have to be here wasting my time” sighed Mrs Stirzaker. I wish this Government would look after me. I wish Nirex would look after me.
“I feel like getting up and shouting to fellow Cumbrianss, this is happening on your doorstep and you are letting it.”
Her evidence had finished with a quotation from the Rev John Pomfret, 1667 to 1702: “And who would run, that’s moderately wise, a certain danger for a doubtful prize?”
A short break in elongated proceedings, Chris McDonald and his team have coffee and respite from the endless stream of witnesses.
Despite high feelings this case has generated, proceedings have been remarkably peaceful, according to programme manager Alan Scott.
Environmentalists claim plans for an underground testing laboratory – or rock characterisation facility (RCF) is the thinly disguised first stage of a waste dump.
This is flatly denied by Nirex. Lionel Read QC told the inquiry no decision had yet been made to propose a deep waste repository.
The sleepy west coast iron ore town got its first taste of celebrity status back in September when the press corps arrived to report to the world.
Cleator had gained a dubious reputation in the 19th century due to excessive drinking by the inhabitants.
Irish Catholics had flocked into town for work along with Cornishmen, Northumbrian Methodists and Scots.
A Century down the line, the Eire men returned, this time in style.
The Irish Government sent over transport and communications minister Emmet Stagg to talk about its fears.
A rock characterisation facility would lead to contamination of the Irish Sea said Professor Eli Lauterpacht QC.
That was week 14. The civic centres dance floor was packed for this high-flying contingent.
But on day 62 the scene below the stilled strobe light was very different. Not many onlookers and little media interest.
“I’m here because I am a mother and I care.” Explained Jennifer Glover of Kendal.
A Friend of the Earth, Greenpeace and CORE member she had been working on her evidence for about a year.
“Before today I said I was going to give all this up, now I don’t think I will ever be able to.
“The problem is I think this is a foregone conclusion, that this is a whitewash, a complete waste of time.”
Ms Glover had explained how science was fallible – and full of flaws. She talked about thalidomide, nuclear accidents and incidents.
“Ravenglass estuary has radioactivity levels second only to sites of some atom bomb tests and Chernobyl.” She told the inquiry.
“The nuclear industry consistently states how safe it is, yet accidents keep on happening.
“Presumably because they got it wrong.”
Milk was thrown away after the 1957 fire, 30 years later it was decided lambs were a greater risk.
“How many radioactive lambs were eaten?”
After Chernobyl experts said livestock would be all right after a couple of months. Sheep are still monitored on Cumbrian farms nearly ten years on, she argues.
“It was little consolation to the passengers of the Titanic that its technology was the finest of the time” concluded Professor John Merritt of Ambleside.
Note: the plan now is to include much more and much hotter high level nuclear wastes