Plans for an underground nuclear waste disposal site in the north of England have been vetoed by local councillors, leaving the UK government back at square one in its bid to find a suitable site for deep geological repository.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change had hoped to locate the £12bn site in West Cumbria, but today councillors voted to withdraw from the process.
The nuclear industry has for years been a key part of the economy in Cumbria, which is home to Sellafield, where radioactive waste is currently stored at surface level.
But plans for the deep geological repository were today rejected following fierce opposition from many local residents and businesses.
Eddie Martin, leader of Cumbria County Council, said there was “sufficient doubt around the suitability of West Cumbria’s geology to put an end to the uncertainty and worry this is causing for our communities”.
Cumbria was the only region in the UK willing to enter into the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, and Martin added: “Cumbria is not the best place geologically in the UK – the government’s efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest.”
The council’s deputy leader Stewart Young said that “the case for investment in Sellafield is now more pressing than ever. We had always raised concerns over the lack of any ‘plan B’ from government and the fact that West Cumbria was the only area to express an interest in the process left the government with few options if we decided not to proceed.”
He added: “It is now time for the government to secure the long-term future of the nuclear industry and put in place robust storage arrangements at Sellafield, while it decides how to continue the search for a repository elsewhere in the UK.”
UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said he was disappointed at the decision but added he was “confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations”.
He said it was “absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy – the issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long.
“We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste.”