Airport expansion plan ‘nuclear risk’

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AN expanded airport near Rye would cause a major nuclear risk - that was the message from protesters as a six-moth public enquiry closed.

Lydd Airport wants to build a new passenger terminal and extend its runway, allowing it to take larger jet aircraft.

It says this would create hundreds of new jobs and help regenerate the Rye and Romney Marsh area.

But protesters claim it would damage an environmentally sensitive area of Romney Marsh and pose a huge risk due to its proximity to the nuclear power station at Dungeness.

Lydd Airport Action Group (LAAG), in a dramatic closing statement, outlined evidence supporting its case and appealed to the Secretary of State to reject the planning application. The group claimed new evidence had strengthened its case for objecting on nuclear safety grounds.

Louise Barton, from LAAG, said: “The Office for Nuclear Regulation made its original decision not to oppose Lydd Airport’s development in 2007, based only on a safety assessment of Dungeness B, the operational nuclear power station at Dungeness.

“No safety assessment was made of Dungeness A because it had ceased power generation at the end of 2006.

“The ONR recently reversed its opinion according to evidence revealed late in the inquiry. This shows it now regards Dungeness A to be more dangerous than the operational Dungeness B. Despite this, no safety assessment has been conducted for Dungeness A.

“Moreover, the ONR failed to inform the inquiry of this change in opinion. It was revealed as an inconsequential point in the evidence of one witness.

“Evidence also showed that the ONR failed to reveal the longevity of the radiological hazards at Dungeness, or to account for them in its safety assessment process.

“For as long as Dungeness A and Dungeness B remain on site, even when shut down and with all of the spent fuel removed off-site, they will continue to present a radiological risk throughout the extended 100 year or so decommissioning phase.

“This is because of the amount of radioactive and other hazardous substances on site, plus the vulnerability of certain irradiated and contaminated parts of the plant to aircraft impact.

“In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster all Europe’s nuclear reactors are being assessed to determine their vulnerability to natural and made hazards such as aircraft accidents.

“This will include Dungeness A and Dungeness B. Fortunately the results will be peer reviewed. LAAG believes the Secretary of State cannot determine Lydd Airport’s planning application until the completion of the safety assessment process which is scheduled to be June 2012.”

Lydd Airport, owned by Sheikh Fahad al-Athel, received planning permission from Shepway District Council on March 3, 2010 to extend the runway by 444metres to accommodate passenger jets and build a new terminal to accommodate up to 500,000 passengers per annum. Following over 14,000 protest letters, the Secretary of State called in the decision for review by a Public Inquiry which started in Folkestone on February 15.

A spokesman for Lydd Airport’s senior management team said they were pleased the public inquiry had provided the opportunity for a full and comprehensive debate to take place about its multi-million pound investment plans for developing the airport.

“We are confident we have provided overwhelming evidence to show our applications to develop the site accord with national and local policies would not have an adverse impact on the integrity of the internationally-designated sites of wildlife and ecological importance, or a significant adverse effect on sites of national and local ecological importance.

“We are also confident our evidence has clearly demonstrated the economic and job-creation benefits of our plans.

“Our applications have been subject to a thorough and comprehensive determination process lasting a number of years and the democratically elected members of Shepway District Council reviewed, examined and questioned the applications and resolved to grant planning permission.

“We remain confident the planning inspector’s report will recommend the approval of the development and look forward to a positive outcome when the Secretary of State makes the final decision,” he added.

A final decision is expected to be announced early next year.