PROTESTERS fear a Hyndburn windfarm could rupture a mineshaft filled with more than half a tonne of radioactive waste.
The Environment Agency has confirmed the mine, used for waste disposal in the early 1950s, contains 0.7 tonnes of uranium.
Located off Elton Road in Belthorn, it’s just a few kilometres from Oswaldtwistle Moor, where developer Energiekontor wants to locate a dozen 400ft-high turbines.
The Stop the Hyndburn Windfarm group claims turbine vibrations could destabilise the mineshaft and potentially cause a radioactive leak.
They highlight a landslide at Derrybrien, Ireland, in 2003 which dislodged 450,000 cubic metres of peat over a 32km area, polluting a river and killing 50,000 fish. The incident was attributed to work at one of Europe’s largest windfarms.
The Environment Agency recently concluded an eight year-long probe into water quality around the Belthorn pit, but has not objected to the planning application.
Seven hundred tonnes of waste were deposited there between November 1951 and August 1952, including construction materials, incinerator ash and ‘low hazard, radioactive material’.
Environment Agency officers say the uranium is contained in various materials within the mineshaft, rather than in a discrete ‘block’, and say that a nearby brook was monitored until as recently as 2006 to ensure radioactive materials were not escaping.
A spokesman said: "The levels of radioactivity seen in the brook were consistently low and typical of those normally experienced in the local environment.
"The results are below the World Health Organisation Screening levels for drinking water and were also below the screening levels designed to protect wildlife from the effects of radiation."
But residents remain unconvinced and have written to MP Greg Pope expressing their fears.
Mechanical engineering student Jack Whalley, of Haslingden Old Road, claimed: "The wind turbine is a large structure which forms a strong bond with the ground.
"Even if there is a 0.1 per cent chance of a risk of radiation poisoning, then this application cannot go ahead."
Fellow protester Stuart Kaufman, of Redshell Lane, said: "We don’t know exactly what is down there, how it was encased, how deep it is, how other shafts and tunnels from mine workings are connected, and how much water that passes through the site finds its way into public water supplies.
"The fact that it is monitored nearly 60 years after it was dumped is reassuring in one sense, but causes alarm in that there may be a hazard that could manifest itself at some future date.
"Otherwise why bother monitoring it? What we need is openness and candour."
Anti-windfarm residents have also claimed the project would degrade the peat blanket bog, harm the habitats of protected birds and cause intolerable noise pollution.
Local councillors Doug Hayes, Marlene Haworth and Brian Roberts all sit on Hyndburn’s Planning Committee, which is due to decide the application.
Councillor Roberts told the Observer that, like all members, he was obliged not to debate any plans before they come to meetings and must remain impartial.
Peter Harrison, of Energiekontor said: "The windfarm will contribute a substantial amount of clean and sustainable electricity and it is important that anyone who supports the windfarm should make their support known both to local councillors and the planning department."
Comments can be sent to Hyndburn Council's Planning Department, Scaitcliffe House, Ormerod Street, Accrington, BB5 0PF, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.