Stop seismic blasting in the Irish Sea

by Marianne Birkby

Stop seismic blasting in the Irish Sea

by Marianne Birkby
Marianne Birkby
Case Owner
Founder of volunteer group Radiation Free Lakeland working to oppose dangerous new nuclear developments. Also a wildlife artist
on 21st July 2022
pledged of £45,000 stretch target from 692 pledges
Marianne Birkby
Case Owner
Founder of volunteer group Radiation Free Lakeland working to oppose dangerous new nuclear developments. Also a wildlife artist

Latest: Aug. 25, 2022

"Successful Seismic Survey" ? The Marine Life Says Otherwise

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all your amazing help in pushing to stop the seismic blasting in the Irish Sea.  I am as devastated as you that we did not manage to stop the seismic blasting but camp…

Read more

This summer the marine life of the Irish Sea off the West Coast of Cumbria will be blasted with airguns every five seconds 24/7 for 20 days, unless we can stop it.

A last minute legal challenge has been threatened against the plan by Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) who want to investigate the geology beneath the Irish Sea bed for a deep and very hot nuclear waste dump (Geological Disposal Facility).  The challenge has been started by Radiation Free Lakeland with the help and advice of environmental lawyers Leigh Day.  

The grounds are that authorisation of the seismic blasting—blasting the seafloor with high-powered airguns—by the regulators, the Marine Management Organisation, is unlawful.

Dolphins at Walney Lighthouse seen this Summer

Our marine life is in danger

The regulatory body has authorised disturbance to common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise, minke whale and sea turtles which are all European Protected Species requiring a European Protected Species Licence under UK law. 

The area also contains basking shark whose plankton food source is likely to suffer significant impacts.  Shearwater Geoservices the company hired by Nuclear Waste Services was accused earlier this year of causing whale strandings in Greece. 

The survey due to begin on the 1st August involves airguns fixed to a ship producing high intensity sounds using compressed air bubbles. The reflected sounds are recorded by hydrophones trailed on streamers behind the ship The ship would be collecting data 24/7 for up to 20 days, with sounds being fired at 5 second intervals.  

Almost 50,000 individuals have signed an online petition in opposition to the plan, whilst many leading environmental and conservation groups have registered their concerns that the health of marine wildlife will be seriously compromised.

To date, the local and national authorities and most disturbingly the Marine Management Organisation have turned a blind eye to vigorous and legitimate objections to the plan and NWS’ underhand application for “exemption” from vital regulatory consultations and Environmental Impact Assessments.   An independent report by Marine Pollution expert Tim Deere-Jones remarks that NWS’ application for an exemption from licensing shows “a marked lack of transparency.”

Why are we raising funds?

Although Leigh Day have generously agreed to do this at much reduced rates, we still need to raise a minimum of £39,000 in order to challenge this outrageous plan.  All monies raised will go directly to the legal case in order to cover our legal team’s costs, court fees and adverse costs if the case is unsuccessful.

Every donation will go directly towards challenging the plan.

Further information:

The Legal Challenge advised by Leigh Day puts forward several grounds including:

  • The Survey does not fall within the scope of the exemption in art.17 of MMO’s Exempted Activities Order as it involves the use of an explosive article, namely an airgun, which is a licensable activity under item 10 of s.66(1) of the MCAA 2009.

  • The Survey does not benefit from the exemption in art.17 as it is excluded by the operation of art.17(5)(c) and (6)(a), which prevent an exemption applying where a deposit is likely to have a significant effect on a European Site.  Any mitigation measures (such as marine mammal observers) intended to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of the plan or project must be disregarded.

  • The grant of the European Protected Species Licence by MMO is unlawful as it has been granted for the purpose of science and education pursuant to s.16 of the WCA 1981 and reg.55 of the Habitats Regulations, but this is not the purpose of the Survey, which seeks to assess the suitability of the deep geology of the area for future infrastructure development. It therefore has an industrial or commercial purpose rather than a science, education or research purpose. 

The Pre-Action letter sent to the Marine Management Organisation proposes that the MMO: 

“notify NWS with alacrity that the proposed Survey does not benefit from an exemption under the Exempted Activities Order, requires a licence for disturbance to basking shark and that enforcement action will be taken if NWS proceeds with the Survey without applying for a marine licence and basking shark licence. If the MMO fails to take these actions, the Proposed Claimant will consider issuing a judicial review claim against the MMO and seeking pre-emptive interim relief to prevent the Survey from taking place. “

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Update 6

Marianne Birkby

Aug. 25, 2022

"Successful Seismic Survey" ? The Marine Life Says Otherwise

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all your amazing help in pushing to stop the seismic blasting in the Irish Sea.  I am as devastated as you that we did not manage to stop the seismic blasting but campaign group Radiation Free Lakeland are continuing to actively fight the nuclear dump plans and we are campaigning to change the outdated guidelines on seismic blasting in order to to protect marine life from this practice in future.

With many thanks again


More info at volunteer group Radiation Free Lakeland

On the Gov.UK website there is a triumphant message:

“NWS’ first marine geophysical survey off the coast of Copeland, Cumbria, was successfully completed on 18 August. This non-intrusive survey has gathered data to provide a better understanding of the deep geology and supports the search to find a suitable site for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).”

Over 50,000 people opposed the seismic survey to test the geology for a deep nuclear dump under the Irish Sea.

The “non-intrusive” seismic survey blasted marine life with sound every five seconds 24/7 for 20 days. There was no public consultation , not even a vote by Copeland Borough Councillors who are supposedly “Partners” in the GDF Community Partnership.

Radiation Free Lakeland have written to the Joint Nature Conservation Conservation Committee urging them to halt all seismic blasting in the UK in marine protected areas. Seismic blasting in marine protected areas would not be allowed in the US who have much more stringent rules on seismic blasting which has been banned in the Atlantic to protect marine life.

Here the seismic survey carried out by Nuclear Waste Services and Copeland Borough Council under the guise of “scientific research” has had impacts that have been witnessed already. Witnesses have seen harbour porpoise displacement, reported the strandings of dead seals and harbour porpoise at Drigg and the strandings of hundreds of dead jellyfish at Silloth. (distressing photos and report of cetacean deaths not published here but sent to the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme)

The seismic survey will have negative impacts on our marine life for the months and years to come. This is the collateral damage from the Government’s policy to foist a deep hot nuclear dump under Cumbria and the Irish Sea.

Marine Pollution Expert Tim Deere-Jones has reflected : ” jelly fish are sensitive and well aware of their surroundings……. Jelly fish have receptors for a wide range of “senses” that respond to touch, light, gravity, chemicals and pressure waves/sound. Sensitivity to sound pressure waves and vibration has been inferred by observational studies of moon jelly fish (Aruelia spp:). Studies have concluded that sound pressure waves/sound are detected and mediated by the equivalent of “sound receptors”.

Laboratory studies have demonstrated that medusae form numerous small crystals, which are collected in sac-like statocyst located at the distal ends of their rhopalia. Rhopalia are complex sensory organs, which have been associated with pulsing, swimming and orientation and that act as gravireceptors, which enable medusae to position themselves in an upright posture after tilting.

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) has revealed major injuries in the statocyst sensory epithelium of both jellyfish and coral species after exposure to sound, that are consistent with the manifestation of a massive acoustic trauma observed in other species. The presence of acoustic trauma in marine species like moon jelly medusa (adult forms), shows the magnitude of the problem of noise pollution and the complexity of the task to determine threshold values that would help building up regulation to prevent permanent damage of the ecosystems.

Ref:….. “Evidence of Cnidarians sensitivity to sound after exposure to low frequency noise underwater sources.” Marta Sole et al’. Scientific Reports. Vol 6: article number 37979. Nature. 21st December 2016.s

The seismic blasting has been hailed “a success” by Nuclear Waste Services – the marine life says otherwise

Update 5

Marianne Birkby

Aug. 6, 2022

Complaint to Copeland Borough Council -Seismic Syd and the Nuclear Dump Villains

Dear Friends

Please find below a letter written To the Standards and Ethics Committee of Copeland Borough Council :

Lakes Against Nuclear Dump would like to make two complaints firstly:

Cllr David Moore’s statement on BBC North West  (1st August 2022) in dismissing over 50,000 voices as an  “odd, few.”  

Secondly, Cllr David Moore’s failure to declare interests at the Executive meeting of 12th July at which the Petition of ( then ) nearly 50,000 signatures was presented. 


On the BBC North West broadcast on the 1st August 2022 Councillor Moore referred to over 50,000 people signing to oppose the seismic blasting taking place as "We have had the few odd people and they are in the minority of people that have expressed some concern. We've had the odd few people come in that were concerned and once we'd explained the process that's taking place, they're comfortable with it.”

As well as representing The Partnership of Mid and South Copeland on the BBC Cllr Moore is one of the literally odd few people on the Council Executive who took Copeland Borough Council into the GDF Partnership and endorsed carrying out extremely harmful investigation techniques in the Council’s name such as seismic testing without any consultation with the public or debate and vote by the full council.

Following the Seismic Blasting - Deep Boreholes ?

 Will the deep boreholes which are to follow the seismic blasting be carried out with the same indifference to the democratic process?  Or will all Copeland Borough Councillors rather than the odd few of the Executive be debating and voting on whether or not this hugely damaging borehole investigation to facilitate a deep and very hot nuclear dump under the Irish Sea should go ahead? 

The BBC programme reiterated the GDF Partnership’s claim that the seismic blasting is merely the same as that carried out for wind farms.  The difference is that other developments such as wind, gas, oil, have to go through the full regulatory process and cannot be carried out with an Exemption from the planning regime under the guise of “scientific research.”  The area of seismic blasting being carried out in the name of Copeland Borough Council is of a scale far greater than any wind farm, oil or gas development in the North West and of an impact far greater with blasts of sound equivalent to the shuttle taking off every 5 seconds.

Petition Dismissed by Copeland Borough Council Executive (4 people) Including those with Vested Interests.

We asked for our petition of over 50,000 signatures to be discussed along with the independent report by marine pollution expert Tim Deere- Jones, by the full council.  Instead the petition and overwhelming scientific evidence that the seismic blasting should be halted was dismissed on July 12th 2022 by the Executive Committee, as being of no worth.  

This is appalling behaviour from the Executive made even more so by the fact that David Moore, Deputy Mayor/Deputy Chair of the Executive Committee made no declarations of interest as representing the Council on the Mid Copeland GDF Community Partnership or that his wife works (or worked) for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary or that as Copeland’s Portfolio Holder for Nuclear he is actively working to bring new nuclear to Cumbria (without the consent of the public) ““We’ve now got a memorandum of agreement between Sellafield, NDA and Rolls Royce to attempt to bring the first-of-a-kind SMR to the Sellafield site, that will be on land possibly to the south of site, around the Fellside area."   The Sellafield site is to be cleared of nuclear waste in order to make room for further new nuclear and new nuclear wastes.    note: Fellside is the dedicated gas plant at Sellafield which buys in £25M of gas every year in order to keep the wastes cool and for other processes on the Sellafield site.  

HOT nuclear waste no longer cooled but buried under the Irish Sea.

HOT Nuclear Waste = BIG Nuclear Dump Footprint

The nuclear waste which Copeland Borough Council has signed up to bury beneath the Irish Sea would no longer be looked after by millions of pounds worth of gas at Fellside and by millions of gallons of fresh water every day.  The temperature of the buried waste would still be very hot and the thermal heating would escalate post closure (they hope "only" to 100 degrees C after 100 degrees the likelihood of disaster is increased) - this is the sole reason for the enormous footprint of the GDF of 25km.

As key member of the GDF Partnership Copeland Borough Council have published the heat issue in a propagandistic Children’s book called “GDF’s Heroes” with Radioactive Ray: “I’m a nice kid, really.  I just need a long time to cool off underground.”   This inappropriate “nice kid” propaganda is in the Council’s name despite the full council never having had a vote on membership of the GDF Partnership.  

Of course the GDF's Villains are not being published by The GDF Partnership for example: Seismic Syd:  “Hi I’m a nice kid, really.  I blast massive sound into the sea every five seconds to test the geology and deafen dolphins.”

We would like to make two complaints firstly: 

 Cllr David Moore’s statement on BBC North West in dismissing over 50,000 voices as “odd, few.”  The 50,000 are backed by scientific fact rather than hyper-nuclear fantasies.

Secondly, Cllr David Moore’s failure to declare interests at the Executive meeting of 12th July at which the Petition of then nearly 50,000 signatures was presented.  The petition now stands at 51.026 - a number approaching the equivalent of the population of Copeland at 68,000.

Yours sincerely

Marianne Birkby

On behalf Lakes Against Nuclear Dump 

- a Radiation Free Lakeland campaign

Update 4

Marianne Birkby

July 26, 2022

The Battle Continues....

Minke Whale - just one of the species in the Irish Sea off the West Coast of Cumbria

Firstly a massive thank you to all of you who have generously donated and signed the petition against seismic testing in the irish sea.  Without your help Radiation Free Lakeland would not have been able to take these first steps in raising the alarm and trying to stop such a terrible atrocity to our natural world.

Your donations enabled us to cover Leigh Day’s legal team’s discounted fees.  Leigh Day provided us with initial legal advice on the prospects of a judicial review of the Marine Management Oranisation licensing decisions.  That initial advice was an essential pre-requisite to any legal claim. 

The funding covered the legal team’s advice and preparation of a pre-action letter, as well as their analysis of the Marine Management Organisation's and Nuclear Waste Service' responses

Based on Leigh Day’s detailed analysis unfortunately the advice is that the prospects of success did not merit the costs of bringing the judicial review at this stage.   But this is not the end of the road.

A major factor was that the Marine Management Organisation had disclosed key documents very late and only awarded the European Protected Species licence within a few weeks of the proposed start date of the seismic surveys. 

That timetable has made it extremely difficult to launch the judicial review in time to secure an injunction, and without the injunction any legal challenge would serve little purpose, because in all likelihood the seismic survey would have been completed before the legal case was resolved.  Injunctions are in practice only granted when the underlying prospects of success are good.

So this combination of factors has made any judicial review very difficult to proceed with.  

However, this is not the end of the road but the beginning of a long haul. 

We will continue to fight this plan, in which seismic blasting is ‘only’ the first stage, to use the deep geology of the Irish Sea to house the most dangerous nuclear wastes.   

 Thanks to all of you we have stood against the seismic blasting which otherwise would have gone unnoticed, unopposed and under the radar.  The leftover funds from this CrowdJustice campaign will be set aside for future legal cases on the same issue of Geological Disposal, potentially including further Marine Management licencing issues and the impacts of seismic blasting on our increasingly threatened marine life.

Update 3

Marianne Birkby

July 23, 2022

The Long View: Time, Space and Harbour Porpoises

Big Thanks to Everyone donating and sharing information about the hugely damaging plan for Seismic Blasting due to start on August 1st unless we can stop it in the short window we have available.    Seismic blasting would be the first salvo in delivery of a sub-sea nuclear dump. 

1. One of the protected species frequenting the area under threat is the Harbour Porpoise.  

2. In order for the science experiment of a sub-sea Geological Disposal Facility to be monitored correctly there would need to be a constant background radiation level.

3. New solid and liquid wastes from Sellafield continue to be dispersed to the marine environment, accidently and routinely.   Historic and ongoing radioactive wastes are resuspended from the silt into the Irish Sea due to wave action and man-made disturbance.

4. The 1998 study  “Radionuclides  in Harbour Porpoises from British and Irish Coastal Waters”  found  "elevated concentrations in the Irish Sea..”  

 The study also notes that In the Irish Sea radionuclides from Sellafield "may take 2 years to reach the west coast of Scotland and 5-7 years to travel to the Arctic Ocean.” 

5.  Researchers in this field are largely funded by government bodies who have a vested interest in reporting very limited detrimental effects.  Nevertheless it is generally accepted that even low doses of radiation have detrimental impacts on mammals and other biota.  Recent evidence on the risks of very low-level radiation can be found here:

Clearly the science experiment which begins with seismic blasting of the Irish Sea to deliver a Geological Disposal Facility is deeply flawed and ultimately unmonitorable.  

The Irish Sea and Harbour Porpoises need time and space to recover from the existing nuclear waste burden rather than this dystopian plan.

Update 2

Marianne Birkby

July 21, 2022

Seismic Blasting Fallout in Millom and District

image: Millom and District Against the Nuclear Dump

The following extracts are from the Nuclear Free Local Authorities who have provided advice and support to local groups opposing the seismic blasting.  

"Nuclear Free Local Authorities also oppose the Geological Disposal Facility, particularly one beneath the sea, and they also have real concerns over the impact of seismic testing; consequently, they have joined local campaign groups, like Radiation Free Lakeland and Millom and District, in writing to the Marine Management Organisation in opposition to the plan, and they continue to provide advice and support to Cumbrian opponents of the plan."

Opposition to the seismic blasting has proved to be a roller-coaster ride for many - not least the former Millom Town Councillor,  Jan Bridget: 

 “Clearly in raising a few home truths about the nuclear dump, I had opened a can of worms. Some Councillors were determined to be involved in the Community Partnership to access the funding at all costs and they saw me as a threat to this. At the June meeting of full Council, I was ferociously verbally attacked, and then to cap it all a promise made to send a letter I had drafted questioning the seismic surveys was not honoured once the Town Mayor was on holiday and could not intercede. That was the last straw. I resigned”.

Update 1

Marianne Birkby

July 20, 2022

Big Thanks to Everyone Sharing and Donating

A very BIG thanks to all of you donating and sharing.  An incredible £8,119 has already been raised in the first day.  We have a way to go but this is an amazing start.

With your help we have a fighting chance of challenging the outrageous plan by Nuclear Waste Services and Copeland Borough Council ("Geological Disposal Facility Partnership")  endorsed by the Marine Management Organisation.   

The ship commissioned by Nuclear Waste Services,  "Shearwater Bly" is already docked in Ireland and due to start hugely damaging seismic blasting on 1st August to run for 20 days .  We will post an update as soon as we have had a response from the Marine Management Organisation to our letter urging them to inform Nuclear Waste Services that they should halt the plan immediately.

Minke Whale are just one of the Irish Sea species that would suffer from seismic blasting

Best wishes


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