The search for a site for an underground radioactive waste store will not be able to be derailed by a single council and could be decided by a referendum, it has been revealed.

A 72-page document was published yesterday detailing the next steps in the search for the multi-billion-pound underground geological disposal facility, following a public consultation.

It has made it clear that the initial stages of investigation do not need authority support, although if it progresses to a legal footing, at least one council would have to be on board.

It added: "No single relevant principal local authority will be able to unilaterally invoke the right of withdrawal."

Cumbria, and in particular the nuclear heartland of Copeland, have long been mooted as possible contenders but the Government is ruling nowhere out as a location in England and Wales.

In 2013, Cumbria's bid to be considered for the store, known as a GDF, collapsed when the county council withdrew from the process.

The decision forced the Government back to the drawing board and it took five years for a new search to begin.

The facility would be built many hundreds of metres beneath the ground – a major undertaking creating hundreds of jobs, taking many decades.

Now, Radioactive Waste Management, the organisation behind the search for a GDF, said the next stage would put the community at its heart.

It admitted the evaluation for a site may take a number of years and added that the final decision – subject to the location being geologically suitable – would have to be supported by the community before it would be allowed to go ahead.

The test of public support, as it is called in the document, could be a referendum, formal consultation or statistically representative polling.

It added: "A GDF will only be built where there is both a willing community and a suitable site."

Its format would be decided by a community partnership, a legal body which would include community representatives, Radioactive Waste Management and local authorities.

The partnership would be created by a working party, which will be tasked with first identifying the geographical area for the GDF.

Relevant local authorities must be invited to join the working group, but if they decline, it can continue in their absence. However, at least one must be represented on the partnership.

It added: "Relevant principal local authorities on the community partnership will have the final say on when to undertake this test of public support in order to seek the community’s views on

hosting a GDF.

"All relevant principal local authorities on the community partnership must agree to hold the test of public support for it to go ahead."

Radioactive Waste Management also has the right to withdraw from the process at any time.

The organisation, which is owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said it will use six 'siting factors', guided by government policy and legislation, to "inform the conversations" it will have with communities and evaluations of site suitability.

The factors include safety, opportunities for communities, protection of the environment, engineering feasibility, transport and value for money.

Karen Wheeler, Radioactive Waste Management chief executive, said: “A GDF is the best long-term solution for managing the UK’s legacy of higher activity radioactive waste safely.

“A facility will only be built where there is a suitable site and a willing community, so it is important that communities and their representatives understand how we will evaluate suitability."

The 2013 plans drew fierce opposition from campaigners across the county, who said the region's faulted geology was not suitable.