Doubts lead to Cumbria’s exit from nuclear storage process

Plans to continue investigations into the suitability of West Cumbria as a geological repository for Britain’s medium-and high-level nuclear waste have been halted.

Further progress of the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process required the approval of Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils and Cumbria County Council (CCC). Approval from the county council would have progressed to the next stage, allowing the government to conduct desk-top geological surveys.

CCC’s cabinet decided yesterday that the area should no longer be considered but did agree that the government should be encouraged to invest in existing surface storage facilities at Sellafield.

CCC believes this would ensure a more robust interim surface storage solution while the government finds a permanent solution for Britain’s radioactive waste.

In a statement, Cllr Eddie Martin, leader of CCC, said: ‘The cabinet believes there is sufficient doubt around the suitability of West Cumbria’s geology to put an end now to the uncertainty and worry this is causing for our communities. Cumbria is not the best place geologically in the UK — the government’s efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest.

Cllr Stewart Young, deputy leader of CCC, added: ‘The case for investment in Sellafield is now more pressing than ever. We had always raised concerns over the lack of any ‘plan B’ from government and the fact that West Cumbria was the only area to express an interest in the process left the government with few options if we decided not to proceed.’

Reacting to yesterday’s decision, Prof Bill Lee, co-director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London, said: ‘This is a disappointing decision by CCC to reject any further part in this process. But it is only a blip, and in the big picture the UK’s programme of managing radioactive waste safely will continue to look for volunteers.

‘We can’t simply leave the waste in temporary container storage; it has to go into a proper disposal facility underground. That needs a combination of a community willing to host it and the right geology.

‘Cumbria has withdrawn much too early in my opinion. The technical arguments put forward against the site were not scientifically convincing, and the process would have benefited from much more scientific analysis to make sure any decisions were based on facts and not myths. That cannot now happen.’

The government has asked communities across the country to approach it about potentially hosting a deep underground facility for radioactive waste.

Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and CCC started the early stages of this consultation as Sellafield houses a large amount of radioactive waste earmarked for disposal in a geological facility.