The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) calls on MPs to not support a call this Wednesday by the Government to place the development of a deep underground radioactive waste repository under the National Infrastructure Planning system, amidst concerns it reduces local democratic accountability and transparency for such a development.
As part of the Government’s attempts to revive the process to find a suitable volunteer site to host an underground repository, it is bringing in legislation that would allow such a development under the same remit as large infrastructure projects like the development of Hinkley Point C, High Speed rail projects from London to the North, and tidal lagoons. (1)
Though this may seem sensible in theory, in practice the process for developing a deep underground radioactive waste repository is quite unique and different to all other large-scale public infrastructure projects. Developing what the Government calls a ‘Geological Disposal Facility’ (GDF) requires a greater level of local public consent and democratic accountability and transparency than the major infrastructure planning regime allows.
In 2013, Cumbria County Council decided to curtail the process of finding a volunteer community and suitable site for a deep underground repository. The Council was rightly concerned around technical and scientific concerns over the repository, concerns over whether there was a site with suitable geology in Cumbria and concerns over the right to withdrawal from the process. NFLA shared those concerns (and itself had many others) and welcomed the County Council’s decision. (2)
In this latest attempt to revive the process, the Government is proposing to take away the right of County Councils to stop such a process as occurred in 2013, and, by putting the process under the National Major Infrastructure planning regime, making it a centralised form of decision-making. By placing it under this system, and developing a National Policy Statement for such a development, there would inevitably be a reduced and diluted role for local government and local communities to stop such developments if they feel they are not appropriate and do not have the right safeguards in place for protecting the local environment.
How on earth can such a centralised system conform to the parallel Government policy of seeking a ‘volunteer’ host community and ensuring full community consent for such a development?
NFLA sees the vote on Wednesday as important for protecting the role of all levels of local government to take a full and active part in a future process to find a volunteer community to host over 290,000 tonnes of radioactive waste that remains after 70 years of nuclear power. (3) NFLA welcomes the dedicated scrutiny provided by a number of members of the House of Lords in criticising the Government’s plans, and the determined nature of MPs like Duncan Hames MP and Paul Flynn MP in ensuring a vote will actually take place on Wednesday. MPs of all parties should very carefully consider the incompatibility between trying to fuse a centralised national infrastructure planning system with a decentralised volunteerist approach for an underground radioactive waste repository. If enacted, NFLA believe that a decision to find a willing local community will fail again. As a result, the UK will be no nearer to a long-term solution to radioactive waste management.
UK and Ireland NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Mark Hackett, said:
I call on MPs of all political parties to think very carefully before permitting the Government to place the plans for a deep underground radioactive waste repository under the national infrastructure planning system. The experience of the Hinkley Point C planning inquiry showed that local authorities and local communities had very little opportunity to challenge key parts of this huge development, which is ridiculous for something as technically complicated and environmentally sensitive as it is. How on earth can a decentralised volunteerist process for finding a repository move ahead if all levels of local government do not have an appropriate role to play in its approval? MPs need to vote no to this development.”
For more information on this media release please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 0161 234 3244 / 07771 930196 or Pete Roche, NFLA Policy Advisor on 0131 444 1445.
Notes for editors:
(1) For an overview of the debate see the blog by planning lawyer Angus Walker on the Bircham Dyson Bell legal practice website, http://www.bdb-law.co.uk/news-and-views/blogs/planning-act-2008/2015/january/606-planning-act-regime-being-extended-to-nuclear-waste/
For the debate on it being voted upon by the House of Commons see:
(2) The Guardian, January 30th 2013, ‘Cumbria rejects underground nuclear storage dump’,
(3) World Nuclear Association, Radioactive Waste Management in the UK, updated March 2015