After over 50 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, and a new low level waste repository is being built at Dounreay in the North of Scotland, but this will only take waste from Dounreay. There are no disposal facilities for intermediate (ILW) or high level radioactive waste (HLW).
After various attempts(1) to find a disposal site for ILW and HLW a company called Nirex announced that it wanted to build an underground geological disposal facility for ILW at Sellafield in July 1991. A public inquiry, lasting five months, was held at the end of 1995, ending on 1st February1996. But on 17th March 1997, just prior to a General Election, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, rejected Nirex’s planning application.
Gummer justified his refusal saying that he remains:
“… 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 elusive search for a solution to the nuclear waste problem was back to square one.
After a series of consultations and studies a new search continues for a suitable location – this time for HLW and ILW was launched in 2008. Communities across the country were invited to talk to them about potentially hosting a site that would ultimately become a ‘Geological Disposal Facility’. Only three local authorities, all in West Cumbria, expressed an interest, establishing the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership to investigate whether they should participate in the search for a dump. 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.(2)
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, a Conservative who led the county council when it took the decision against a repository earlier this year.(3)
A new White Paper was published on 24th July 2014. The new plan involves launching a national geological screening exercise; scrapping the formal council veto and replacing it with what officials call a positive “test of community support” for the project to go ahead; and paying councils joining the site investigation process £1m per year for up to five years in compensation to explore the idea further, rising to £2.5m per year as the design and planning phase begins, then rising substantially when building starts.