Hunt for nuclear waste disposal site continues in west Cumbria

  • Report by Andrew Misra

Another step has been taken in the hunt for a nuclear waste disposal site in west Cumbria.

A community partnership has formed in mid-Copeland to try to identify a site to store radioactive waste safely. A second partnership is to be formed down the coast in South Copeland in a few weeks, around the Millom area.

Plans to create such a setup - known as a geological disposal facility (GDF) - were first considered almost 10 years ago and were rejected by Cumbria County Council.

The Government has since restarted its search for a site, and west Cumbria, with its links to nuclear through Sellafield, is again being considered.

David Moore from Copeland Borough Council, who is a member of the new partnership said, "Currently in Copeland we've got 85% of those higher activity waste that are destined to go to geologic disposal. We think it's important to involve ourselves in the process.

The current proposals are also considering a large offshore area, shown below by the orange line. It lies next to the onshore area being considered, shown in green. The Lake District is excluded, as are existing and future coal mines.

David Moore added, "This process is different to last time because we're now looking at the area off the coast, out to 22km - which is new areas that have not been explored before."

But there is some concern among opponents of the scheme that locals may not be on board. Jill Perry from the Allerdale and Copeland Green Party told ITV News, "Geology doesn't change. I'm shocked that they have said this is going to be community led when we have no evidence whatsoever that any of the communities are willing hosts.

"Doing it out at sea instead of under the land doesn't make me any less concerned. I think it makes it easier for them because there's no local community to consult, But I am still very very anxious about that."

There's discussion of a geophysical survey off the west Cumbrian next summer.

It could take 10-15 years to find a suitable site, and would still need approval from the local community.

What is a DGF?

A GDF is a place where radioactive waste from the nuclear industry - which accounts for about fifth of the UK's electricity - would be stored several hundred metres underground. It needs to have enough volume of rock surrounding it to prevent harmful quantities radiation reaching the atmosphere.

It would be made up of highly engineered vaults and waste would be stored there while its radioactivity naturally decays to safe levels.  

Communities which accept a GDF are eligible for government funding - £1m a year investment funding per Partnership to go towards for local projects. This could rise to £2.5m per year if deep borehole investigations to assess geology take place.

The plans are being explored by Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, which is itself part of the Department for Business, energy and Industrial Strategy.

RWM has said that a GDF would be the safest way to story radioactive waste in the long-term.