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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Disposal site could bring jobs bonanza

A DISPOSAL site for radioactive waste could be built underground in Cumbria, after the power to veto its construction was taken away from local councils.

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GRAPHIC DETAIL: Above, the depth of the proposed site. Opposite, top, the timeline, from community discussions to full use. Opposite, bottom, a map of all nuclear facilities across England, Scotland and Wales

By JONATHAN ROBINSON

Cumbria County Council’s vote against hosting a nuclear waste site in January 2013 has prompted the government to renew its framework in finding a permanent home to the country’s stockpile.

Under the new approach revealed in the white paper, Implementing Geological Disposal, no council, whether county or district, will be able to veto the decision over where the radioactive waste would be stored – meaning Cumbria may still be chosen.

However, communities are expected to receive several millions of pounds of additional investment if they host the £12bn underground repository – or even just consider doing so.

Communities which consult residents about the building of the nuclear store could receive up to £1m a year. This amount could increase to £2.5m a year if exploratory drilling takes place.

The government’s altered plans follow Cumbria County Council’s vote to end talks over the facility after a drawn-out four-year process.

The decision was made due to fears the authority would be unable to withdraw from the process at a later stage.

It prompted controversy around how the government chose any site and how it measured public support, or the lack of it.

In a statement, Ed Davey, energy and climate change secretary, said: “The area that eventually hosts a geological disposal facility will benefit from significant investment in the community and hundreds of skilled jobs for decades to come.”

Campaigners have long argued West Cumbria’s geology and previous gas and water exploration has rendered its landscape unsuitable for an underground nuclear store due to leakage fears. They have suggested other sites around England and Wales are more suitable.

A study of each possible location would consider its geological setting, hydrogeology and geochemistry before a decision is made.

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, said: “The white paper is a welcome step in moving towards resolving a critical national policy issue.

“My constituents currently live alongside the vast majority of the UK’s spent nuclear fuels and radioactive waste products. Nowhere else in our country is this policy agenda more pressing or more important. Nowhere else in the country does any community provide such a unique and valuable national service.

“Our country has a moral, economic and environmental obligation towards my constituents when it comes to resolving these issues.

“Any attempt by any government to ignore its obligations to my community in this policy area will no longer be tolerated.

“Central government needs to prove it has the desire, capacity and capability to solve these issues. This means that the centre of government must develop a way of working with, listening to and responding to communities in a way in which it has so far failed to do.

“Wherever in the UK an eventual GDF site is found, this will have a profound effect upon the people of Copeland and West Cumbria.”

Steve Nicholson, spokesman for the Sellafield Workers’ Campaign, said: “We certainly welcome it, because we still need a solution for the long-term storage of the waste and 70 per cent of the UK’s nuclear waste is already stored safely at Sellafield.

“It also gives us some definitions because in the old process, which is obviously dead and buried now, people were saying ‘what is a community?’

But in the next two years they’re going to look at defining a community and there’s an option there to enter it and later withdraw.

“There’s lots of things to do within the two years, but after that people can put their hand up and say they want to be a host community.”

A spokesman for Cumbria County Council said: “We are reviewing the details of the new white paper and will comment if necessary in due course.”

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