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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Nuclear waste consultation comes to end

IT will be late summer before Copeland Council announces whether it will continue to investigate the possibility of hosting an underground nuclear dump in the area.

A four-month consultation period, hosted by the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) partnership, ended last Friday. Public opinion has been sought on whether residents would be prepared to host a high-level nuclear waste repository.

The feedback received, in direct correspondence to the partnership and from a series of public meetings, will now be assessed before a decision is taken. A telephone survey carried out among Copeland residents by independent researchers MORI will also feed into the process.

Copeland Council, Allerdale Council and Cumbria County Council – the only ones in the country to do so – have all expressed an interest to the government about finding out more about the possibility of having such a dump in the area. If built, it could be as big as 25km squared and up to a kilometre underground. However, it is likely to be 10 to 15 years before any construction would begin.

MRWS will now assess the feedback, through a series of workshops, before preparing a final report for Copeland’s full council to take a decision. Copeland Council cannot proceed to the next stage without Cumbria County Council also doing so, and vice-versa. A decision to withdraw can be made right up the start of construction.

Elaine Woodburn, the leader of Copeland Council, has consistently emphasised that a decision is a long way from being made, and all that has been made by the councils so far is an “expression of interest” to the government that they are prepared to consider the possibility. The government has given an assurance that a repository “will only be put in an area where the community has volunteered to have it”.

Although initial geological studies have ruled certain areas out, a precise location for the site cannot be identified until the next stage

As the consultation ended, a number of organisations formally fed into the process.

Millom Town Council has pledged its support for the facility as councillors unanimously agreed that the partnership should progress to the next stage.

They felt a substantial benefits package and being able to withdraw at a later stage made continuing with the consultation a sensible option.

Councillor Christine Lovell said: “I don’t think we should rule out anything at this stage.

“The area might not be suitable but it needs to be looked at.”

Councillor Doug Wilson added: “The reason they are proposing to store the stuff underground is for safety and security.

“If we go into future nuclear power stations, we’re going to need further capacity and it’s best it’s stored underground.”

However, opposition has come from eight parish councils, plus Greenpeace and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), while a Save Our Lake District, Don’t Dump Cumbria campaign group has been formed to fight the plans.

NFLA chair Brian Goodall said: “The NFLA has consistently opposed the development of a deep underground radioactive waste repository because it is deeply concerned with the many technical and scientific uncertainties that remain unanswered with such a development.

“The Scottish Government policy of near site, near service, monitorable and retrievable stores seem a much more sensible approach to me.

“I also believe the geology of West Cumbria is clearly not suitable for a deep-underground facility and as such the NFLA urges the West Cumbrian Councils to not move on to the next stage of this process. A better solution must be found.”

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