The UK government says it will embark on “a renewed drive” to find a community to host a deep geological repository for radioactive waste after a local authority in northwest England voted against hosting the planned facility.
Cumbria County Council voted today to withdraw from the process to find a host community for the underground facility. Cumbria, site of the Sellafield nuclear facility, is so far the only area to have expressed an interest in hosting the repository.
Another local authority, Copeland Borough Council, voted in favour of remaining in the process, but it had previously been agreed that both authorities needed to vote in favour in order for the process to continue. As such, the current process will be brought to a close in west Cumbria, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said in a statement.
A second borough council is due to vote later today, but the outcome of that vote is now academic.
At a meeting today, the 10 members of Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet also agreed that the council will ask the government to improve the existing surface storage facilities at Sellafield so 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.
A council statement said the nuclear industry is, and will continue to be, a key part of the Cumbrian economy. West Cumbria is a renowned centre for nuclear skills and expertise and the “home” of the UK’s nuclear industry, the council said. “Most of the UK’s high-level radioactive waste is stored at Sellafield, and therefore what happens to that waste in the future is, and will continue to be, of vital interest to Cumbria.”
The DECC said the government will reflect on the experience of Cumbria and will talk to the local authorities and others who have been involved to see what lessons can be learned.
Responding to today’s votes, secretary for energy and climate change Edward Davey said: “We respect the decision made today by Cumbria councillors. They have invested a great deal of time in this project and have provided valuable lessons on how to take forward this process in future.”
He said the government is clear that nuclear power should play a key role in the UK’s future energy mix. He said: “I am 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 plants”.
The UK first called for volunteer communities to host the repository in June2008. In June 2011 the government launched a consultation on how to choose a potential deep geological disposal site for radioactive waste.
DECC’s goal is to put the first waste into a disposal facility by the end of2029.