A Cardiff court will play host to a group of activists on Tuesday, as they fight for an injunction to stop 300,000 tonnes of “nuclear mud” from a Somerset power station being disposed of just outside Cardiff.
The unusual dispute centres on the “Hinkley Point C” building site, where energy supplier EDF are currently in the process of constructing two new nuclear reactors.
In order to drill the six shafts needed for the reactors, EDF is clearing 300,000 tonnes of mud and sediment - and planning to dispose of it just off the Welsh coast, on the Cardiff Grounds sandbank.
The prospect of that amount of waste being ditched a mile and a half away hasn’t exactly excited locals or environmental campaigners, but there’s another factor causing added concern.
For decades, Hinkley Point has been a nuclear power hub, with its first station - “A” - operating for 35 years before closing in 2000. Hinkley Point B was opened in 1976 and is still functioning today.
The presence of these two plants has led to concerns over whether the mud there is radioactive and when the plans were announced, various online petitions calling for the Welsh Assembly to look into the matter were launched online, gathering a total of 100,000 signatures by mid-September.
Throughout the process, energy suppliers EDF have remained adamant that public safety is not at risk, with a spokesperson previously stating, on numerous occasions: “The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds site.”
Natural Resources Wales have backed them up too and say on their website that mud tested in a laboratory “did not have unacceptable levels of chemicals or radiological materials and was suitable for disposal at sea”.
But these statements have not satisfied campaigners - who count among their number a member of welsh band Super Furry Animals.
Keyboard player Cian Ciarán has become something of a spokesperson for the campaign and recently told the Guardian that he’s “involved as a Welshman and a concerned earthling”.
His worries - shared by his fellow campaigners - are centred on the validity of the tests carried out. “They try to convince us that the mud is safe and there’s nothing to worry about but I can’t take the nuclear industry’s word for it,” he told the paper. “The Welsh government has had ample opportunity to stop it but they haven’t. They’ve put their heads in the mud rather than sand.
“I felt angry, saddened, desperate. Potentially it’s causing irreversible harm.”
On their side, they count the Green Party - who are also questioning why nuclear power is being funded in the first place - and Greenpeace, who recently told EDF to stop falsely stating they accept the mud is not toxic.
“We are clear that we do not know if the mud is toxic or not, and therefore we support calls for more testing to be undertaken,” they said. “Legitimate questions are being raised by local residents and concerned citizens about the limits of the testing that has been done so far.
“Their calls for further testing should be respected and we support calls for further testing of the mud before it is moved.”
Frustratingly for them, the dumping began while the debate has raged on and in early September, a barge ditched the first load of mud on the sandbank.
Nevertheless, the campaigners persisted and launched a crowdfunded legal battle calling for a more comprehensive range of tests. On 17 September, they had a small win when a High court Judge ruled EDF had“not [been] accurate on a very important point”.
As a result, this week’s hearing will look into whether or not the dredging of the mud at the Hinckley location was covered within their environmental impact assessment (EIA). If it wasn’t, the campaigners could be en route to their second small victory.
And if they don’t win, there could be another bizarre twist in this story. Neil McEvoy, a Welsh Assembly member and longtime opposer of the plan, has come up one with one novel way to stop the barges: he’s calling for a “people’s flotilla” to take to the water.