Nuclear waste disposal plans in Lincolnshire

Residents in Lincolnshire are unhappy with the nuclear waste proposal – will this lead to another ‘Lincolnshire rising’?
Photo by Ionut ciotirnae on Unsplash

The Lincolnshire rising rebellion

In 1536, a rebellion broke out in the north of England. It was fomented by Roman Catholics who objected to top-down decision making, namely the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry 8th and Thomas Cromwell and the right of the King to rule on matters of religion.

Henry was not impressed with this revolt which began with the Lincolnshire Rising in the market town of Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds. He called the county ‘a brute and beastly shire’ and had the rebellion savagely put down. Louth is not far from the small village of Theddlethorpe where another rebellion against top-down decision making appears to be brewing over a plan to bury nuclear waste under a disused gas terminal in the village.

Residents in Lincolnshire unhappy at proposed nuclear waste disposal: just resistance to change?

Lincolnshire is a very rural county. It’s one of the largest parts of England by geographical area yet has a population of only around three quarters of a million. Residents value its rural tranquillity.

Its coastal communities are much favoured by those wanting a quiet retirement by the seaside along with the charms of the nearby Lincolnshire Wolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its villages are seen as desirable and very affordable places to live by people moving up from the South East with substantial funds at their disposal. People who live there don’t like change and objecting to things is second nature to them.

This is not the first time the county has been identified as a potential site for nuclear waste disposal. In 1987 a similar scheme was suggested for a disused airfield at Fulbeck between Lincoln and Grantham. It was abandoned after local people came together to oppose the idea.

As well as being unhappy about the new proposal, many in the county have recently complained about (in no particular order of significance) on-shore wind farms, meat rendering plants, mushroom compost factories, too many foreigners, the EU, potholes and poor roads, the lack of high speed broadband and no doctors, dentists, or post offices.

The nuclear waste proposal

So It’s no surprise that Theddlethorpe residents are up in arms. But though details of the scheme only emerged by chance in the last week of July, it seems as though the site has been under consideration since 2019. The announcement caught many on the hop. The County Council had said nothing official prior to the middle of that week but local MP Victoria Atkins was quick to complain that the first she’d heard of the scheme was when the news broke in the media.

The politics of the Theddlethorpe proposal are therefore going to make fascinating watching. Lincolnshire regularly votes Conservative. Ballots are not so much counted as weighed. But there are a number of factors in play that may change that.

One is the perceived health hazard. The local community are fearful of the risks of moving hazardous waste on unsuitable roads, of radiation sickness affecting them and of contamination to crops grown in the area, even though the nuclear industry is well aware of their responsibilities for safe storage and have well-established procedures for disposal.

A second factor is climate change. This year’s destructive floods in Europe, torrid heatwaves in the US and wildfires in Siberia and Turkey show that it is not just a possibility but is already producing real consequences. Lincolnshire County Council recently launched its Green Masterplan as their contribution to the UK proposals for the COP2 climate conference which the UK is hosting. It stresses the need to reduce carbon emissions which nuclear-generated electricity can help towards.

The council is acutely aware of its low-lying coastline which is particularly susceptible to the threat of rising sea levels, notably in the fenland areas around Boston and Spalding where around 30% of the country’s fresh food is grown. Losing that resource would devastate not just the county but the UK.

The third factor is economic. The coastal economy has suffered from Covid and Brexit. It’s heavily dependent on jobs in low-paid agriculture and tourism, a reason why the EU considered Lincolnshire to be among the 4th poorest regions in northern Europe in 2016.

As if to underline this, the county councillor responsible for economic development recently reported 80,000 job vacancies in the county. Though the government has been talking about levelling up, the county will be seen as politically safe and loyal and not in the same bracket as the ‘Red Wall’ seats. The news that the Theddlethorpe plan may generate hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, both in jobs and infrastructure, is bound to be tempting for local politicians.


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Will there be another ‘Lincolnshire rising’?

It’s worth remembering that Lincolnshire voted heavily to leave the EU and take back control. It is now faced with some consequences of that decision. The UK is no longer in Euratom which has developed policies of safe disposal of nuclear waste and doubtless will continue to do so. It will lose much of that benefit as well as structural funding it received from being a member state. There are no signs of either being replaced.

What if the government tries to ram Theddlethorpe through? The waste has to go somewhere and its stated aim is to relax planning laws but the recent Chesham by-election showed what Tory voters think of unpopular policies like building on green belt land and HS2. Boris Johnson’s approval rating amongst Tory voters is dropping like a stone because of such decisions. If these factors coalesce around Theddlethorpe, could we see another Lincolnshire Uprising?

It’s unlikely – but to be on the safe side, Lincolnshire County Council has already decided not to confront the possibility by stating the local community will make the final decision via a binding referendum.

The irony of that should not be lost on anyone.

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