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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

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Copeland 'may go it alone' in N-waste search

COPELAND might go it alone to see if there is anywhere in the area suitable for burying highly radioactive nuclear waste.

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

Copeland Council’s Executive voted 6-1 in favour of going on to Stage 4 but its vote was not enough.

The county’s “no” vote means the process is stopped in its tracks.

Its cabinet decided that neither Copeland nor Allerdale should be considered as a potential location and should be excluded from further consideration in the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process.

It now wants the government to make “the necessary investment” to improve existing surface storage at Sellafield and calls for more robust storage arrangements while a permanent solution can be found.

County council leader Eddie Martin questioned the credibility of local support, saying consultations were not good enough. He called for a county-wide referendum.

Afterwards he said: “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.”

On concerns about a right of withdrawal, he said this was not yet enshrined in law “and we could not take the risk of saying yes today without this being absolutely nailed down”.

Deputy leader Stewart Young said: “The case for investment at Sellafield is now more pressing than ever.”

In the debate county councillor Tim Knowles stressed that it was not about “buying approval” in the process but about moving forward in research as no-one knew for sure about West Cumbria’s geology.

Most of the nation’s waste was already stored above ground at Sellafield but in unacceptable conditions. “Whatever today’s decision, Cumbria is a long way off saying yes to having a repository.”

Coun Stan Collins said the wrong decision would leave a legacy for hundreds of thousands of years. “Say no,” he said, “as it’s too uncertain to say yes.”

The ‘no’ vote has thrown doubt over whether site investigations will ever take place. But The Whitehaven News understands there is a chance that Copeland might be allowed to go it alone.

MP Jamie Reed, who said he was bitterly disappointed by the county cabinet’s decision, said he will now try and persuade the government to allow Copeland to go ahead with its own preliminary surveys to try and discover more about the area’s geology.

He intends to introduce a Private Members’ Bill aimed at getting Parliament’s backing to recognise Copeland’s wishes for desktop studies without any commitment to eventually hosting an underground repository.

Mr Reed said it would not involve legislation but Copeland might need its own special powers to help drive forward the process.

Energy minister Baroness Verma recently gave an assurance that the right of withdrawal from the process (right up to the start of repository construction) would be made legally binding.

Copeland Council’s all-Labour executives vote was not unanimous, with Coun Hugh Branney (who represents Cleator Moor North) the single dissenting voice.

He had serious concerns about safety and the prospect of highly radioactive nuclear waste being buried in the National Park.

But after the vote, council leader Elaine Woodburn said: “I do not know whether a GDF is right for Copeland, I don’t know whether it is right or wrong, but I think we have taken the right decision today.”

Deputy leader Allan Holliday asked the Executive to vote in favour and the proposal was seconded by Gillian Troughton.

Coun Holliday said: “Seventy-five per cent of the waste is on our doorstep (at Sellafield) which is why we need to find a long-term solution.

“I believe Stage 4 will give us most of the answers. If the answer comes back that it is not satisfactory then that’s the end of MRWS in this area. In any case, the right of withdrawal is still there.

“We have to gather the information and get it out to the people, either go forward or not. If it is not suitable, we would have to look at alternative solutions but this waste will not disappear.”

Coun Branney said: “The notion of some of our most toxic chemicals being inside our greatest asset, the National Park, is something that really disturbs me. The balance has to be on the side of safety. There are too many uncertainties for me.”

Earlier Coun Branney said: “The National Park covers 75 per cent of the land identified. Much has been said about the sanctity of the National Park and the very special qualities that need to be preserved.

“Would it be possible to remove the National Park from the available land? If that were to happen I think opposition would simply disappear and people would be supporting. Most of the protests are not anti-nuclear.”

Coun Woodburn said: “We all live here and know what an asset we have but stressed: “ decision to participate is on the whole of Copeland.”

Stage 4 would look at “local exclusion criteria” and go out to consultation. There was no evidence yet of what areas either to include or exclude.

“This is not about excavating in the Lake District or anywhere in West Cumbria, no deep geology work, no dynamiting. It would be a desktop study for further information taking four or five years. Nothing has been done in the UK on this time and scale before.”

Asked about geology, Coun Woodburn understood the nervousness. Expert opinion was varied and different but she pointed out: “There is no evidence to say the geology is suitable or unsuitable. The only way to find out is to carry on with the process.”

Coun John Bowman wondered at what stage would it be decided about the possibility of being able to retrieve waste from a repository deep underground.

Coun Holliday said: “This is something which would be decided over the next few years. It is still a live and an emotive issue.”

Councillors George Clements and Phil Greatorex raised the matter of community benefits promised by the government. Coun Woodburn replied: “Nuclear benefits seem to create real emotive feeling that it is a bribe. We need to get away from that culture.

“Community benefits are important but this is about the safety and security of the environment and the public – not how much money. It is not the driver.”

On the right of withdrawal right up to the point when construction of a repository was due to start, Coun Branney said: “I find it very difficult to believe that if millions of pounds are spent, government will say ‘that’s all right then we will move on.’

But Coun Woodburn stressed that the right of withdrawal process (which the government says will be made legally binding) would be clearly set out with all the right advice taken for independent taken by the decision-making bodies and for the protection of the community.”

And as far as the council leader was concerned there would need to be a referendum once the process moved into an advanced stage.

“It is my personal view that a referendum will be needed. The community should decide its own future but a referendum should be at the right time and based on the right information.”

When it came to the vote, George Clements said: “We can only make a decision based on the information we have in front of us.”

The No Ennerdale Nuclear Dump campaign addressed the Executive before the start of the formal debate. Representative Lyn Walby said the online petition urging councils to stop a potentially damaging search for a potential site had now reached 21,000.

She said: “We are not anti-nuclear, we do not want to close Sellafield, the nuclear industry is a vital part of West Cumbria’s economic life. What we are trying to get across is that it is fundamentally wrong for any exploration of a GDF within the National Park – a national asset.”

Have your say

The people of Cumbria have spoken and don't wont this DUMP. So stop pushing and wanting to waist more money on tests. What part of WE DON'T WONT IT do you not understand. And a reminder to those Councilors who wont let it go, you will be wanting our vote at some point do you really expect to get it if you prove you refuse to listen.

Posted by Simeon scott on 7 February 2013 at 13:21

The decision has been taken - accept it, thats what a democratic society does, otherwise anarchy prevails.
most people will accept that the waste has to be safely contained, and so what should have happened pre volunteering i.e looking for a suitable site NATIONALLY, should now happen and in the meantime money needs to be spent on improving the surface storage on site, and investigation into the Prism reactor development to use the plutonium waste.
So lets stop all this rubbish about going it alone, this is just political posturing by our MP and Council leader, they DO NOT have the mandate of their constituents, but just a minority of narrow minded, souless individuals. How could anyone even contemplate blotting the Ennerdale landscape, its beyond belief, our duty is to protect such places for future generations and to deal with our environmental problems in a proper NOT MATERIALISTIC OR POLITICALLY EXPEDIENT WAY.

Posted by John on 4 February 2013 at 12:31

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