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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Too many doubts

IT was Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer, who said: “No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” How true that must be of nuclear science.

EM Eddie Martin column
Eddie Martin

As so-called community leaders we councillors (whether at borough or county level) must occasionally make difficult, sometimes lonely, and quite courageous decisions. Such decisions are unlikely to please everyone. Making a courageous decision often comes with a high price. On the upside and in my experience, that courageous decision usually proves to be the right one, even if it takes years for people to appreciate it. It might cost your office but, chances are, some day you will be remembered for doing the right thing. Whether or not West Cumbria could be or should be the potential home of an underground nuclear waste store confronted us with the most courageous and pivotal decision we would ever have to make.

In these past months we have received thousands of emails, letters and telephone calls about the wisdom of progressing to stage four; letters, even, from Sellafield workers urging us not to continue in the search. We have been under intense and immense pressure but I am pleased we have remained focused and purposeful while seeking, over many months, considerable clarification and explanation of the complex issues associated with the disposal of nuclear waste. In this regard, the decision to seek a pause in the process, back in September, was entirely correct.No one can possibly argue with the NDA’s assertion that long-term safety should be and must be treated as the fundamental and absolute requirement which must run through the entire site selection process. We can’t wish away or wash away the nuclear waste. The scientists will, no doubt, tell us in due course which is the best solution. Unfortunately, there are any number of recorded examples where scientists have shown that they are not, in fact, infallible. How will nuclear science change in the next 100 years or so? After attending an international conference in Canada, it became abundantly clear to me that international opinion is unequivocal: High level nuclear waste must be disposed of in appropriate, deep geological repositories and within the territorial borders of the country producing the waste. The key question for us, however, was and perhaps remains whether or not West Cumbria is the optimum location in the UK. To some extent, the diverging opinions – geological, scientific and environmental – along with earlier studies, such as those of Nirex, have contributed both to the confusions and, indeed, the concerns expressed by many. We clearly needed to consider the facts as they are and not, however, as some might wish them to be or, indeed, believe them to be. And there was much to consider, including an attempt to forecast the unintended consequences of a course of action.

Not the least of my concerns, however, was how democratic, thus far, the process had been. Had the people of West Cumbria – or even, perhaps, the whole of Cumbria – truly been involved in the process? The magnitude of this proposal is simply colossal; surely there should have been much greater approval from our many communities before proceeding further?

In fact, there were a great many uncertainties, the cumulative effect of which raised too many doubts for us to remain confidently in the search. And we agreed to withdraw. I respect the views of those who think we have made the wrong decision. If we have, I sincerely apologise. No one hopes more than I we have not.

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