The UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) are aware of growing concerns that have arisen in the early decision-making processes around finding a potential volunteer community to host a deep underground radioactive waste repository, called within the nuclear industry as a ‘Geological Disposal Facility’.
Over the past 40 years and more, central government and the nuclear industry has been trying to find a location for storing highly active radioactive waste deep underground. NFLA calculate at least 5, and arguably 7, failed attempts previously. Part of those failures has been the level of public opposition to them and local councils failing to be convinced about the safety and design of such a development.
NFLA remains sceptical on whether a deep underground repository is the most effective solution to long-term radioactive waste management, but it remains actively engaged in the discussion. The NFLA Secretary is a member of Radioactive Waste Management’s (RWM) ‘Exchange’, where environmental groups are in early dialogue over this policy.
The groups involved in the RWM Exchange process have been concerned that the four council areas that have now emerged with initial interest in a potential repository project have got to that point due to specific requests from private landowners, charitable trusts and companies. The initial push to move forward with this process does not appear to have come directly from the councils themselves, and it has, as a result, led to significant and prominent local opposition.
For example, this week it has emerged that Hartlepool Council has been holding some informal conversations with the Wharton Trust charity and RWM about potentially considering initial engagement over possible local sites for a repository. The Hartlepool Conservative MP and the Tees Valley Elected Mayor have immediately raised their opposition to such an initiative, and there appears to be concerns raised by a number of local Labour and Conservative councillors. (1)
This follows on from similar confusion over the possible consideration of a site near the former gas terminal by the Lincolnshire village of Theddlethorpe. Whilst Lincolnshire County Council have had some meetings with RWM, it is notable that some councillors were unaware of it, whilst East Lindsey District Council, where the site is, have noted their opposition to the site. (2) A local petition in the area has already received over 1,500 signatures opposing any move forward with this development. (3)
Whilst the West Cumbrian Councils in Copeland and Allerdale have moved into more formal discussions on considering engaging with the deep repository process, in both cases it was private landowners and companies that put forward potential initial sites, not the councils.
Given all the failures of the past four decades in this area, it does seem strange to the NFLA that such a sensitive development like an underground repository appears to be initially moved forward by private landowners and charitable trusts, rather than the local councils. It feels like the councils are then having to get involved in the process, and deal with the immediate and vocal frustrations of local councillors and residents. It does not appear at this point to be very ‘volunteerist’ – surely it would be better for any initial expressions of interest to come from the councils themselves, not for them to be potentially ‘bounced’ into the process?
In the Cumbrian case, the NFLA are also concerned what the major reorganisation of local government in the county will mean for this process. It has been clear in the early parts of the process in Copeland and Allerdale that Cumbria County Council, who curtailed the last attempt to find a location for a repository, remains sceptical about such a development. Dividing the county in two could create real political challenges for this process going forward.
NFLA UK & Ireland Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“It would appear we now have four potential council areas which might express an interest to host a deep underground radioactive repository, though in all four cases it appears the councils concerned have not been the ones to put sites forward, rather more unaccountable private landowners and charitable trusts. As such, there is already concerted local opposition and political anger around the areas being considered for such a facility. This does not augur well for this process going forward positively. NFLA constantly asks what would happen if the process fails again, and the ‘plan B’ for dealing with these hazardous materials in the long-term, but it has not had a clear answer. The great challenge of getting public consent is again there for all to see. There is a real need for a wider debate on whether issues of geology, retrievability, public consent and alternative strategies to deep disposal should be considered first. Instead, replicating the mistakes of the past looks a distinct possibility.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) Northern Echo 11th August 2021
(2) East Lindsey District Council statement on Theddlethorpe proposals from RWM, 29th July 2021
(3) The Lincoln Lite, 29th July 2021, ‘Over 1.5k people sign petition against nuclear waste storage in Lincolnshire