THE first step has been taken on a project that could see thousands of jobs created in Copeland.

Today, a working Copeland Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) Working Group has been formed aimed at looking into the prospect of building a multimillion-pound storage facility for nuclear waste in Copeland.

The group aims to engage with local people and identify a search area to find potential nuclear waste storage sites.

If there is a willingness from the community to move forward with the idea, a community partnership would lead to more detailed work and ongoing engagement would take place.

It has already been agreed the Lake District National Park would not be part of any search area and that no site would be built without the support of local people. Both onshore and offshore areas across Copeland will be considered.

The process started more than two decades ago, with previous attempts to find a suitable site turning out to be unsuccessful.

“This process is different because it is driving from the community. The community has to want to take this forward,” explained David Moore, portfolio holder for nuclear and corporate services at Copeland Council.

Mr Moore said the planning process could take up to 20 years and that about 75 per cent of the waste that would be stored is already sitting in west Cumbria.

It was also noted that Copeland Council would not pick up any of the costs of the working group.

“For this to be successful we need both a suitable site and a willing community, and wherever that site and community is, it is genuinely a transformational change that can be brought to that community,” explained a spokesman from Radioactive Waste Management, the public body responsible for planning and delivering geological disposal in the UK.

He said thousands of jobs would be created in the site’s construction and hundreds in its operation. Billions of pounds of funding would also be available for the local area, such as offering apprenticeships, developing skills and improving infrastructure. This could lead things such as improved transport or a new hospital.

“In the near-term through the partnership there is the opportunity for some investment funding for the communities involved in the search for the site.

“What this is about longer term is about working with the community to develop a vision that everybody is comfortable with so that real change can be brought to a community.

“As well as the thousands of jobs that will come with the construction and the hundreds of jobs that will come from the multigenerational operation of the facility it can really make a change.

“Part of that vision is things like apprenticeships, developing skills in the local area or physical infrastructure, that opportunity is there but it is further down the line and it needs to be built around a vision that the community wants to develop over time.”

RWM highlighted the importance of the site.

“The thing a lot of people miss when you are talking to them about this is there is actually a need for this, it hasn’t just been dreamt up,” he said.“We have got 60 years of waste that is accumulating around the country, a lot of it at Sellafield. We’ve all had the benefit from power generation, medical use and so on and there is a need to do something about it now and that is why the consensus view is that geological disposal is the right thing to do,” he said.

Mr Moore added: “We are the generation that must find the best location for this, that is not predisposing it should be in Copeland, wherever it is geological disposal is the right destination for this waste which is currently sitting in ageing stores in Sellafield.”

Addressing potential environmental and safety concerns, the RWM spokesman added: “Implicit in the suitable site is it has got to be safe. A GDF and all the associated works, I can assure you would just not proceed if, in the first instance we can’t satisfy ourselves as RWM that it is safe, and secondly that we need to satisfy multiple regulators that this is safe.”

“Safety is paramount. In terms of the impact, it is a significant infrastructure project but it is significant infrastructure project operated and implemented over a long period of time. We would face the normal challenges that any project of this size would face, you know: transport movement, visual impact and all of that will be fully assessed through the planning application process.

“This is a nationally significant infrastructure project so it goes through that planning regime for a GDF.”

Nuclear waste is already prepared and packaged for disposal at Sellafield and is currently within the Sellafield complex.

At the GDF the packaged waste would be taken hundreds of metres below the ground and put into tunnels or vaults and then a backfill material would be placed around it and the tunnel or vaults sealed.

Around that are hundreds of metres of suitable geology, referred to as a multi-barrier system, in other words, multiple layers of protection that contain and isolate the radioactive waste forever.

It is hoped that the first waste will be in place at the GDF by the middle of the 2040s. Without such a facility, the waste would continue to be stored above ground until one was built. How would it work. “One part will always take place in Copeland and that is the front-end of Geological Disposal Management (GDM) where waste would be prepared, packaged in its final packaging and prepared for disposal.“That work would take place on a site adjacent to the Sellafield site.

Wherever the GDF is built there will be a receipt place for it and there will be the work that goes on there.“Wherever the final GDF is, Copeland will be carrying out the front-end of this work. The waste is here, the majority of the waste is here, even waste destined in the future over the period of this process are destined to finally come to Sellafield.“We are really interested in getting local people to engage with the process because we genuinely do want to find out what people think and to get their opinions. An independent facilitator will also help us to engage with people in ways that suit them so we can get to everyone,” explained Mark Cullinan, independent chairman of Copeland GDF Working Group.

“We want people to ask questions and make contributions and we have got the expertise that can help to answer some of the questions. This is a genuine attempt to involve the local community in a very open and transparent way.” Go to