Nuclear Waste Disposal

The ongoing big issue in the nuclear power industry across the UK is the need to find a long-term solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. This is an exceedingly complex issue, but is even more important now that the UK has decided to proceed with the construction of new nuclear power plants. The issue is particularly relevant to this area given the seemingly never-ending interest and pressure on locating this repository somewhere in or beneath areas in Cumbria. The purpose of this page is to summarise the current situation and to provide links to websites where you can find more information.

The previous version of this page focused largely on the work of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership in West Cumbria. Under the system ruling at that time through to mid-2013, Allerdale and Copeland Boroughs were the only areas in the UK that had volunteered to look into the possibility of locating a repository in their areas. On 30 January 2013, Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils voted to continue with the next stage of the MRWS process, but Cumbria County Council voted against proceeding further down this path. This meant that the MRWS process in West Cumbria was terminated. As there were no other volunteer areas, this decision sent the UK government back to the drawing board to develop a new system for finding a location for this repository

The new approach is described in the White Paper “Implementing Geological Disposal” published in July 2014. The most controversial aspect of the old MRWS process centred on the geological suitability of any identified candidate sites. After due consultation, the document “National Geological Screening Guidance – providing information on geology” was published this year and this protocol will now be used by the British Geological Survey to provide an overview of existing information about the geology to a depth of about 1000 metres or so beneath England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The other controversial strand of this work has been the concept of communities volunteering for involvement and this raised questions about what defines the community and how it deals with community investment. Answers to these and other questions have been developed through the Community Representation Working Group, which has now finished its work and whose conclusions should be published in the near future.

During the MRWS process, there was considerable opposition, mainly on the grounds of unsuitable geology, to the implementation of a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste in Cumbria and this led to the formation of a number of campaigning groups. Perhaps the most prominent is the Cumbria Trust, which collates information and comments on the ongoing selection process. Much useful technical information on the history of this saga (going back to the origins in the 1980s and through the NIREX investigation of the 1990s) has been provided by two eminent geologists – David Smythe and Stuart Haszeldine.

So, we are about to enter a more active phase in the current programme as BGS in due course publishes the geological info previously absent and communities begin to consider whether they should get involved. I will update this page as these processes become clearer.

Leslie Webb, September 2016.

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