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Cumbria underground nuclear waste facility vetoed by County Council

31 January 2013

Despite votes in favour by Allerdale and Copeland District Councils, Cumbria County Council (CCC) has rejected continued cooperation with UK Government agencies into the possibility of siting an underground nuclear waste storage within its borders. This effectively kills proposals for the site to be situated in Cumbria, the only county so far willing to consider hosting the site.

A Nuclear Decommissioning Authority cutaway showing the planned GDF nuclear waste facility
A Nuclear Decommissioning Authority cutaway showing the planned GDF nuclear waste facility

Under the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, all three councils needed to support Stage 4 of the process, which would have involved detailed geological investigations into potential sites.

CCC leader Eddie Martin said: "Cumbria has a unique and world-renowned landscape which needs to be cherished and protected. While Sellafield and the Lake District have co-existed side by side successfully for decades, we fear that if the area becomes known in the national conscience as the place where nuclear waste is stored underground, the Lake District's reputation may not be so resilient."

The CCC communique called for immediate investment in surface storage at Sellafield in west Cumbria, where all the UK's high-level and most of its intermediate-level nuclear waste is stored.

"The findings of a National Audit Office report in November 2012 which looked at the way that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Ltd were managing risk reduction at Sellafield clearly demonstrated the need for immediate improvements in the management of major projects at the site'" CCC said, adding that the report had criticised the site for posing a “significant risk to people and the environment” because of the deteriorating conditions of radioactive waste storage facilities.

The planned £12bn underground storage site would have guaranteed hundreds of jobs far into the future, according to the Government, and many more during its construction phase.

Cumbria was the only county considering siting the facility, so the Government is back at square one in its efforts to find a site to dispose of the waste generated by decades of nuclear power generation. The UK is forbidden by law from exporting nuclear waste, so surface storage of intermediate and high-level wastes at Sellafield will continue into the future.

France, Sweden and Finland are all in the process of building underground nuclear waste storage facilities, and a number of other countries are researching the possibility of doing the same.

Copeland Borough Council leader Elaine Woodburn, whose authority voted six to one in favour of moving to Stage 4, said the council would be writing to the government confirming the council’s willingness to go it alone. She said: "I don't know whether a geological disposal facility (GDF) is right for Copeland - and if the next stage finds that it's not then I will be the first to say we don't want it. But we have taken the right decision to try and find out."

However Ed Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, confirmed that the county council’s vote had killed prospects of siting the facility in Cumbria.

He said: “For the process set out in the 2008 White Paper to move to the next stage in west Cumbria, we agreed with the local authorities that there should be consent at both borough and county level. Despite extensive efforts, such agreement has not proved possible. Accordingly, we must bring the current site selection process to a close in west Cumbria.

“The Government remains firmly committed to nuclear power as a key part of our future energy mix and to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher-activity radioactive waste. The Government also continues to hold the view that the best means of selecting a site for a GDF is an approach based on voluntarism and partnership working.  

“The construction of a GDF is a multi-billion pound infrastructure investment.  It will directly create hundreds of jobs for many decades, even more during peak construction periods, and potentially hundreds more in the supply chain and in local service industries.  The Government is also committed to providing a community benefits package, potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds, to support the social and economic well being of the host community, which will have a lasting impact for generations.  

"It is absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long."

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