UK Process to Site Nuclear Geologic Waste Depository Stalled

The UK’s process to site a deep geological repository for radioactive waste in West Cumbria screeched to a halt on Wednesday after the Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet decided that the region should no longer be considered as a potential location to host the facility, even though the local government of the borough of Copeland voted in favor of the plans.

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) noted that it had been previously agreed that parties at both borough and county level needed to vote positively for the process to continue in West Cumbria. "As such, the current process will be brought to a close in west Cumbria," it said in a release on Wednesday.

The UK government now plans to "embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a [geological disposal facility] is drawn to the attention of communities, and to encourage further local authorities to come forward over the coming years to join the process."

“We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. 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 stations," said UK Energy Secretary Edward Davey. "“It is however absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long."

Davey said the UK was "firmly committed" to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe, and secure management of radioactive waste.

Cumbria County Council’s 10 cabinet members on Wednesday called on the UK government to make necessary investments to improve existing surface storage facilities at Stellafield, which already hosts a majority of the UK’s high-level radioactive waste at an interim storage facility.

Cabinet members made it clear at the meeting that the vote came after consideration of what it called "a highly contentious issue which has polarised opinions," and that they had listened to and considered all of the evidence and opinions put forward during the UK’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, the council said on Wednesday.

"Cabinet believes there is sufficient doubt around the suitability of West Cumbria’s geology to put an end now to the uncertainty and worry this is causing for our communities. Cumbria is not the best place geologically in the UK—the Government’s efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest," said Councilor Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria County Council.

Sources: POWERnews, DECC, Cumbria County Council

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