Nuclear waste decision postponed

An image of how the underground waste store could look Photo: MRWS

The three Cumbrian councils involved in deciding whether a nuclear waste facility should be built in the the west of the county want clarification on a number of points before they vote.

Allerdale, Copeland and the County Council had been due to vote on whether to go through to the next stage of the process and look for a site next week. They have put off the vote until January next year.

“This is not a decision which can be taken lightly and members don’t yet feel we’re in a position where we have all the information needed to make a decision...

"The Government has always made it clear that if necessary, the process can be ‘paused’ while we seek clarification on unresolved issues.

"We’re at that stage now and the next three months will involve all three councils working closely with the Government to get to a position where a decision can be made.”

– Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria County Council,

The West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership, which included the councils and other organisations in Cumbria, completed its final report in July 2012 setting out its opinions and advice on the issues that would be involved in taking part in the search for a site.

The report said ‘a lack of trust appears to us to be at the root of many of the key concerns raised by the public and stakeholders’. The group want the right to withdraw at any later stage in the process to be set in writing.

Below is a copy of the letter sent to Baroness Verma at the Department of Energy and Climate Change on behalf of all three councils.

**Dear Baroness Verma,

Thank you for a useful meeting on Tuesday. We agreed to write to you to set out the headline concerns and issues that have been raised with ourselves by our communities, to seek particular clarification with regards to the MRWS process, and to explain why we agree that a three month pause is the best course of action for all of us at this point in time.

First of all, there is the need to strengthen the right of withdrawal, to make it legally binding. We welcome DECC's commitment to looking at putting this on a firmer footing by the end of Stage 4, but we would like a better understanding of the detail and timescale behind such a commitment.

Secondly, whilst we welcome DECC's commitment to using the Partnership's 13 principles as a basis for negotiation on community benefits in Stage 4, we would wish to have further discussion to clarify the process of such a negotiation.

The third issue is that the suitability of the geology was of paramount concern to many residents of Cumbria due to the lack of definitive information presently available. But, as the process to secure this information will take a substantial period of time we feel that alternative radioactive waste management solutions should be considered in parallel with the MRWS programme, in case that process ultimately fails to secure a positive outcome.

These are some of the issues that we would like to explore with you, but clearly there are others such as the need for adequate engagement funding and Cumbria brand protection which remain unresolved and would be amongst the prerequisites for further participation in the MRWS process.

All of these issues relate to trust which, as you know, is one of the over-arching themes flagged up in the final report of the MRWS Partnership. The economic future of West Cumbria is inextricably linked to the future of the nuclear industry, so the community needs to be confident that the government’s strategy for that industry takes account of the needs of West Cumbria as well as the national interest.

It is our belief that a pause in the process now, in accordance with your

predecessor’s letter of 7th November 2011, will enable us to work with you on the above issues, and will strengthen the level of trust we have in each other, and the level of trust the wider Cumbrian community has in us all. **

– Eddie Martin, Cumbria County Council, Elaine Woodburn, Copeland Borough Council, Ian Smith, Allerdale Borough Council