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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Cumbria repository search is called off

CUMBRIA County Council’s executive has voted against moving to the next stage of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process.

Cumbria County Council cabinet voted (7-3) not to proceed with the next stage of the repository process, which would have involved desktop geological studies.

Copeland Council and Allerdale Borough Council had voted in favour of proceeding to stage four of the process, but the county council’s decision meant that the repository search was ended.

A statement from Cumbria County Council said it had decided that West Cumbria should no longer be considered as a potential location for a deep geological repository to dispose of higher activity radioactive waste.

It said: “At a meeting in Carlisle, on January 30, the 10 members of the county council’s Cabinet also agreed that the council will encourage the government to make the necessary investment to improve the existing surface storage facilities at Sellafield so that there is a more robust surface storage arrangement in the decades to come while the government finds a permanent solution for the country’s higher activity radioactive waste.”

The decision effectively ends Cumbria County Council’s four-year formal involvement in the current MRWS process.

It said: “The nuclear industry is, and will continue to be, a key part of the Cumbrian economy. West Cumbria is a world-renowned centre for nuclear skills and expertise and the ‘home’ of the UK’s nuclear industry.

“Most of the UK’s high-level radioactive waste is stored at Sellafield, and therefore what happens to that waste in the future is, and will continue to be, of vital interest to Cumbria.

“Cabinet members made it clear at the meeting that this has been a highly contentious issue which has polarised opinions and that they had listened to, and considered, all of the evidence and opinions put forward during the MRWS process.

“This included the report produced by the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership, which as well including the local authorities, included representation from industry, parish councils, the Lake District National Park, the tourist sector, unions and other community groups.”

On the same day as the county council’s no vote, Copeland Borough Council’s executive voted “yes” on moving to the next stage of the process, with six councillors supporting the motion, while only one opposed the move.

Copeland Borough Council leader, Elaine Woodburn, said: “We agreed to move to the next stage of the MRWS process, and made this decision based on the evidence presented to us, both in the form of the MRWS Partnership’s final report, and the recent correspondence we had with the government and a range or other organisations.

“Whilst we do not know whether this area will be suitable to host a repository, we thought it was appropriate to continue in the process to try and find out.

“The results of a statistically robust opinion poll showed that Copeland residents supported this decision.”

Allerdale Borough Council’s Executive had agreed to participate in the next stage.

The Council’s Executive met to consider the available evidence, which included the final report of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership, representations from the local community and clarifications from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Leader of Allerdale Council, Councillor Alan Smith, said: “It has been a long process to get to this stage and I thank the members of the MRWS Partnership and many others who provided information and expert opinion to help us reach a decision.

“We carefully considered all the necessary facts, evidence and assessments in coming to our decision. This was not a commitment to host a Geological Disposal Facility but an agreement to seek further information to enable a more informed decision to be taken later on.

“Whether or not to continue in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process was always going to be a landmark decision, which is why it had to be a carefully considered one.

“We decided, after much consideration, that Allerdale should continue to participate, with conditions, in the search for a site for the nuclear repository.”

The county council’s decision meant that process was ended.

Copeland MP, Jamie Reed, said the borough remained in a strong position within the nuclear industry.

He said: “Copeland is now in an exceptionally strong position to take forward the important work of radioactive waste management for the UK. There is an unprecedented cross-party mandate for this, an undeniable environmental and moral case and an overwhelming economic case for taking this issue forward. Most importantly, doing so is in the best interests of the people of Copeland and West Cumbria.”

The government will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of communities, and to encourage further local authorities to come forward over the coming years to join the process.

The government will also reflect on the experience of the process in west Cumbria, and will talk to the local authorities themselves and others who have been involved to see what lessons can be learned. No changes to the current approach will be introduced without further public consultation.

Responding to the Councillors’ decisions, Edward Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, said: “We respect the decision made today by Cumbria councillors.

“They have invested a great deal of time in this project and have provided valuable lessons on how to take forward this process in future.

“While their decision to withdraw is disappointing, Cumbria will continue to play a central role in the energy and nuclear power sectors.

“We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. I am confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations.

“It is however 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.

“We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste. We also remain committed to the principles of voluntarism and a community-led approach.

“The fact that Copeland voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a GDF demonstrates that communities recognise the benefits associated with hosting such a facility.

“For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring. We will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of other communities.”

Kevin Coyne, Unite national officer and chair of Trade Unions for Safe Nuclear Energy, said about the decision: “Seventy per cent of Britain’s radioactive waste is based in Cumbria and the Sellafield workforce are responsible for it. The people of Cumbria were not going to be making any commitments to a waste repository by agreeing to continue with this study.

“This waste is not going to disappear but because of this decision there are no answers for how we can effectively deal with it.”

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