After over 60 years of nuclear power and numerous attempts by the Government to find a suitable site to dispose of nuclear waste, the UK still has no satisfactory solution for dealing with higher level nuclear waste.
There is a low level waste repository near Drigg in Cumbria, just south of Sellafield. There are no disposal facilities for intermediate (ILW) or high level radioactive waste (HLW). Government policy is to find somewhere to dispose permanently of such waste in a Deep Geological Disposal Facility
In the 1990s Nirex announced that it wanted to build a rock laboratory for ILW at Longlands Farm, Gosforth (near Sellafield) in July 1991. A five-month public inquiry in Cleator Moor ended on 1st February 1996. But on 17th March 1997, just prior to a General Election, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer (now Lord Deben, chair of the UK Climate Change Committee), rejected Nirex’s planning application.
Gummer’s refusal judgement said that he was:
“… concerned about the scientific uncertainties and technical deficiencies in the proposals presented by Nirex [and] about the process of site selection and the broader issue of the scope and adequacy of the environmental statement.”
In a letter to Nirex he said:
“… your company does not understand the regional hydrogeological system well enough.”
So, after over 15 years of work and an expenditure of around half a billion of taxpayer’s money, the search was back to square one.
Then government policy changed from ‘decide, announce defend’ approach to ‘volunteerism’ in the hope that a ‘willing community’ might emerge.
West Cumbria, with its nuclear industry, was always the target.
Sir John Knill, chair of RWMAC in 1996 said:
‘members of the public could be forgiven if they came to the conclusion that, somehow and somewhere, a decision had already been taken to construct a deep repository of radioactive waste at Sellafield’
Managing Radioactive Waste Safely
A new search – this time for HLW and ILW – was launched in 2008, at the same time as a new fleet of nuclear reactors was announced. Without a means to dispose of waste, government could at least say it had a plan.
Communities across the country were invited to talk to government about potentially hosting a Geological Disposal Facility. Two local authorities in West Cumbria expressed an interest, establishing the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership to investigate whether they should take in the search for a dump site.
Geology and hydrogeology are critical in determining the suitabiity of a site. Yet ‘willingness’ seemed more important. It was left to local NGOs to talk about geology in a meaningful way and to present a series of lectures by Profs David Smythe http://davidsmythe.org/nuclear/nuclear.htm and Stuart Haszeldine https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/en/persons/stuart-haszeldine
The Partnership reported in August 2012. But on 30th January 2013 Cumbria County Council rejected proposals to move on to the next stage and begin a search for a site.
This forced the Government to launch yet another consultation in September 2013 which proposed a revised process allowing district councils to take the lead. This would give Copeland and Allerdale Councils a second chance to launch a search for a site without a veto by Cumbria county council. The government was accused of “astonishingly undemocratic” behaviour by Eddie Martin, the County Council leader who led the decision against the proposal.
And although the Partnership commissioned an independent evaluation
the government has taken no notice of its findings, which highlighted that the following are ESSENTIAL (para. 5.11):
Appropriate governance arrangements
Resourcing and capacity building
A new White Paper was published on 24th July 2014, scrapping the County council veto and replacing it with what officials call a positive “test of community support” for the project to go ahead; paying councils joining the site investigation process £1m per year and putting the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – the agency tasked with delivery! – in charge. This was followed by an updated framework in December 2018 and a National Policy Statement in July 2019.
There was to be no independence as in MRWS, no local engagement with NGOs as in MRWS; willingness was considered more important than geological suitability and the NDA was in charge.
Again, a call was issued across the land, and again Copeland and Allerdale Councils took up the baton. Behind closed doors, Working Groups were set up, and now there are three West Cumbrian ‘Community Partnerships’ established, with their £1m a year funding to distribute locally.
The MRWS evaluation said
‘any future Partnership must make efforts to carry out dialogue with NGOs and engage them in the process. There may be common ground that can be established, there may be not, but exclusion or ignoring NGOs and dissenting voices is just not an option’
But so far NGOs have been excluded from all so-called ‘Partnerships’.
The Mid-Copeland ‘Community Partnership’ site is here https://midcopeland.workinginpartnership.org.uk/
The South Copeland ‘Community Partnership’ site is here
The Allerdale ‘Community Partnership’ site is here
Other ‘communities’ are in discussion with the NDA and in Lincolnshire the NDA has established a ‘working group’
For further background, see History of Nuclear Waste Disposal Proposals, No2 Nuclear Power, 24th Nov 2012
also the archive for the MRWS Partnership http://www.westcumbriamrws2013.info/all_documents.asp