Debate over officer funding to research the nuclear sector

Lincolnshire County Council’s (LCC) job advert for a Policy and Engagement Officer, a role that will research the nuclear sector, has sparked controversy and concerns regarding impartiality and ethical considerations due to its funding by Nuclear Waste Services (NWS).

The job describes the role as a conduit between the council and the proposed Theddlethorpe Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), and comes with a salary of £38,296 to £42,503.

The appointee will be tasked with maintaining an overview of the developments proposed by NWS, ensuring senior politicians and officers are briefed and engaged, thereby helping the council in its role as the principal relevant local authority.

This includes providing advice on the potential advantages and disadvantages of the proposed investment.

The officer will be responsible for ensuring that the local community is provided with balanced information and will coordinate with local and national authorities and organisations to manage and distribute the latest information about nuclear industry developments and waste disposal.

The role also involves advocating activities that enable both the council and the area to derive financial benefits from the proposed GDF through investments in critical infrastructure, business and employment supply chains, and community grants.

The advert notes that while the post is fully funded by NWS, it will operate independently of them, and the LCC has adopted a neutral stance on the GDF.

However, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has expressed concerns, stating that the LCC’s understanding of the sector’s harsh realities is lacking, and that their motivations might be economically driven due to the long-term and uncertain nature of nuclear propositions.

The campaigners believe that LCC, by accepting funding from NWS, may be perceived as aligning itself with NWS or potentially compromising its impartiality in future nuclear-related decisions and policies.

The critics suggest that this funding could be seen as LCC getting “off the fence” and taking a side in the ongoing discussions and debates related to nuclear projects in the region.

Coun David Blackburn, chairman of the NFLA English Forum, expressed his concerns about the direction in which the LCC is heading: “Whilst this may mean job security for the successful candidate, it must represent insecurity for the residents of Theddlethorpe, Mablethorpe, and Sutton.

“For the first duty listed for the post holder will be to act as ‘the main point of contact between the council and the geological disposal facility which is proposed by Nuclear Waste Services for Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire’.

“If NWS is indeed providing ‘permanent’ funding then it must remain of the view that, despite the clear local opposition to the proposal, a GDF might go forward for Theddlethorpe in the future. Otherwise, why would they invest?”

The Theddlethorpe site, currently under consideration for a GDF by NWS, has been met with significant opposition from the local community and elected members.

Ken Smith, a Theddlethorpe campaigner, has voiced that accepting funding from NWS suggests a bias on the part of LCC towards the GDF, rather than maintaining neutrality.

“In my view, it is totally unethical,” he said. “It gives NWS a direct line to councillors. They can claim independence as much as they like, but he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

He further emphasised the need for the council to encourage companies developing renewables, given Lincolnshire’s ideal location for such technologies.

Lincolnshire County Council, however, said the role would remain independent, and that the funding from NWS would mean residents “do not bear the financial burden” in the face of substantial additional work the authority would have to carry out in administration and liaison.

Andy Gutherson, executive director of place at the LCC, highlighted that the council has an obligation to ensure residents are well-informed so they can make informed decisions about their area.

He stated, “The post holder is independent from NWS, and will ensure the council’s responsibilities are met with regards to this, and any other nuclear developments proposed for the county.

“This post also includes work with the UK Atomic Energy Agency to make sure Lincolnshire benefits from any opportunities arising from the new fusion facility announced for West Burton.

“Work with Lincolnshire businesses will also explore opportunities to manufacture nuclear industry components, bringing high-value engineering careers to the area.”

A spokesperson for NWS stated: “The funding provided by NWS for the post is in accordance with the Working with Communities Policy, to provide Lincolnshire County Council as a relevant Principal Local Authority (rPLA) on the Theddlethorpe Community Partnership, with financial support to enable them to take part in the GDF siting process at no additional cost to local taxpayers.”

They stressed that the reimbursement arrangements are structured to not restrict the independence or decision-making abilities of the Council.

The NFLA has suggested an alternative path, where the appointed officer could seek grants to install energy-saving devices and insulation in the county’s most energy-inefficient homes and help install renewable energy technologies, such as rooftop solar schemes, across the county.

“We would love to see the appointee help lower energy bills for the households of Lincolnshire, lower energy consumption, generate truly green, sustainable energy, and create jobs for the county, but new nuclear, which takes forever, costs a fortune, contaminates its surroundings, and leaves a deadly legacy of toxic nuclear waste, need not feature,” said Coun Blackburn.