Petitions Committee Debate on Dumping Marine Sediment
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Thanks to the Petitions Committee for bringing today’s debate. As many people have said, there is a lot of public concern about this issue. Evidence for that is the 7,000-plus people who have signed this petition. So, I think it’s entirely right that we are debating this subject today here in the Assembly.
Public knowledge of the science behind this may be limited, but we do have to allay public fears and there has to be a transparent process and it has to be more transparent than what we’ve had so far, I believe. We are increasingly living in a world of experts. These experts have certificates and they have letters after their names and, in most cases, I don’t doubt that these experts do possess a lot of knowledge, but we have to ensure that, as a society, we don’t topple over into a technocracy. Experts making decisions on matters that have wider public interest need to be held to account by the public.
Decisions that carry a major public impact need to be open and transparent, and big companies, and particularly public utility companies like EDF, need to ensure that their procedures are transparent. What this petition seems to be focusing on is testing and the quality of EDF’s testing procedure. Now, EDF say that their testing procedures are fine, but they are a commercial concern, so they would say that, wouldn’t they? What the petitioners seem to want is a more transparent testing regime.
What we haven’t had thus far is an environmental impact assessment. Mike Hedges, who knows probably a lot more about the science behind this than I do, is talking about an independent academic review, and the independence, as he put it, is the crucial factor. I think these are perfectly reasonable things to ask for, if only to allay perfectly understandable public anxieties and actual public fears. Two constituents of mine came—well, they didn’t come to me on this point, I have to agree, but they raised this issue and this was many weeks ago, possibly months ago. The wording of what they said to me was something along the lines of, ‘What’s all this about the nuclear sludge they’re going to be dumping in the Bristol channel?’ Well, I don’t know whether ‘nuclear sludge’ is in any way an accurate term. As David Melding said, I’m no scientist, but it is an indication of the public concern over this. EDF say they have been using the Cardiff Grounds for disposal of dredging material for years, but I believe not this kind of material. Is this material purely a benign heap of mud? Is it anything akin to nuclear sludge? I don’t know, but the public do need to know and we do need to have some kind of independent review. Thank you.