Britain’s nuclear programme faces renewed uncertainty after the only community considering hosting an underground dump for spent fuel voted against doing so. Separate meetings of Cumbria County Council, Allerdale Borough Council and Copeland Borough Council voted on Wednesday on whether to allow surveys to find if rock could safely contain radioactive waste. The executives of both Allerdale and Copeland decided in favour, but were overruled, as Cumbria County Council – the overarching authority – decided to withdraw from the process by seven votes to three. Copeland is home to Sellafield nuclear plant, which employs 9,000 people, and Jamie Reed, the Labour MP for Copeland, wanted the scheme to move to the next phase (Stage 4).
The government must now look for other volunteers to host a £12bn site to hold dangerous material for 100,000 years. Lord Hutton, the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, also said he did not believe there would be an impact on projects, adding that he was disappointed by Cumbria’s decision and that “The issue of what to do with our nuclear waste has not gone away” . He was confident other places would be interested in the scheme. Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the government would now embark on a “renewed drive” to find other sites saying “For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring.”
Cumbria county councillors cited public opposition as the reason for their vote to withdraw. Tens of thousands have campaigned against hosting the dump, saying it would ruin the Lake District’s tourism industry, damage the National Park and threaten health. Councillors will encourage the Government to make the necessary investment to improve the existing surface storage facilities at Sellafield so that there is a more robust surface storage arrangement in the decades to come while the Government finds a permanent solution for the country’s higher activity radioactive waste.