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Saturday, 30 August 2014

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We say: So will Copeland go it alone?

RADICAL repercussions are likely to follow in the wake of yesterday’s decision by Cumbria County Council’s cabinet to say “no” to a potential repository site search in the west of the county.

It could well result in Copeland Borough Council – whose executive voted 6-1 in favour – going it alone.

The county council has always held the key to the repository door – Stage 4 (the desktop feasibility study stage) could not take place without the county’s support.

Now Copeland MP Jamie Reed says he will do everything in his power to make the process happen without the county council’s involvement by bringing in a Private Member’s Bill urging Parliament to recognise Copeland Council’s wish to proceed to the next stage without commitment. This would involve four or five years of desktop studies into the area’s geology.

Mr Reed is optimistic of success without any need for legislation, although changes to planning regulations might be sought giving Copeland the powers it would clearly need to go it alone.

So is all this a declaration of nuclear independence?

It won’t be easy. Without a united front, the relevance of Cumbria County Council on the affairs of Copeland borough – whose employment and economy is so heavily dependent on the nuclear industry – is brought into question.

Political insiders were not surprised by the county cabinet’s decision. Indeed The Whitehaven News carried similar speculation last October, shortly before the three councils decided to delay their vote in order to get government clarification on some key issues.

Energy minister Baroness Verma has said up to now that, to move on to the next stage, the government would need three green lights otherwise it would come to a stop. And stop it technically has.

So what happens next? Mr Reed will likely press ahead with his Private Members’ Bill and proceed without the county council.

Bearing in mind the strategic national importance of finding somewhere to bury the huge stocks or radioactive material (most of which is already stored on the surface at Sellafield) is that likely to be the end of it? No other areas of the UK have expressed a formal interest.

Not only has the Government to find a permanent radioactive waste disposal solution, but the future of the UK’s nuclear new-build programme (including plans for new reactors near Sellafield) and the prospects of plutonium re-use through a Mox 2 or Prism plant at Sellafield could also be jeopardised.

Many in Copeland place a high value on the nuclear industry and it seems had no problem about moving on to finding out more about the geology of the area.

Arguments have been vehement on both sides. Last week we wished our elected representatives the wisdom of Solomon. In fact what they showed was a grasp of the issues, a passion and a desire to make the right choice – whichever way they voted. They stuck to their sincerely-held views to the end.

County cabinet members have clearly listened to the opposing views which have gathered momentum daily, not just from detractors far away and anti-nuclear groups but from Ennerdale where a local ‘no-dump’ campaign culminated last Saturday in a well-supported protest march through the valley.

An easy decision lightly taken? Of course it wasn’t. And is it all done and dusted? Don’t you believe it.

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