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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

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Nuclear repository: Residents get organised behind a common cause

Nestled in the Cumbrian countryside, on the road between Wigton and Silloth, lies the village of Abbeytown – you could be forgiven for not giving it a second glance as you drive between its two larger neighbours.

Bill Angell photo
Bill Angell

Residents there are getting organised behind a common cause with their campaign posters and stickers displayed in many of the windows with the emphatic slogan ‘No to dump’.

It has been organised by campaign group Solway Plain Against Nuclear Dump (SPAND) in reaction to a proposed underground storage facility for high level and intermediate nuclear waste.

Next Wednesday three local authorities – Allerdale, Copeland and Cumbria county councils – are all due to decide whether or not to stay in the running to have it built in their areas.

But Neile Connelly, a 52-year-old truck driver from Abbey Close, says he first heard of the plan in the autumn and feared many people would have been unaware that such a plan was being considered for Cumbria.

“It was the first I knew about it. I saw a stall at a car boot sale in Silloth.

“I don’t want one here at all. I just don’t fancy having it dumped here under the ground. They always send it up here from the south.”

Mr Connelly is keeping his fingers crossed that the plan will be rejected on Wednesday.

“It’s out of our hands. They have not advertised it.

“It’s a beautiful place in England. You get tremors here a lot – is that going to affect it underground?”

His wife, 54-year-old Susan, is also opposed to the plan.

“I don’t want it here. I think we have enough rubbish dumped on our doorstep.”

Wednesday’s decision would involve conducting further tests to identify possible sites where the geology is suitable for the underground facility which could be as big as Carlisle.

The progression from stage three to stage four of the process will involve a ‘desktop geological survey’ which would be followed by invasive tests to fully assess the suitability of selected sites in the west of the county.

It would not be a firm commitment from the individual authorities, just an expression of interest – the Government has offered an assurance that they can withdraw at a later stage but stopped short of making it legally binding.

Engineers have said that the Government’s decision to bury the nuclear waste in a specially built storage facility would be a bigger construction challenge than the channel tunnel.

It would involve tunnelling between 200 and 1,000 metres, involve about 1,000 construction workers and would take an estimated 15 years to complete – at a projected cost of between £12 billion and £20 billion.

The waste would need to be stored for tens of thousands of years and so far Cumbria is the only area considering the idea.

It is understood that the work could begin in 2025 and be completed by 2040.

Bill Angell, a 67-year-old who moved to the area in 1998, would rather it was not built in west Cumbria.

“We’ve been to the meetings. The evidence I’ve heard suggests that it’s not a suitable area for a nuclear dump here anyway.

“The impact from here to Silloth would be immense. I think that people are worried that once it gains momentum it will be harder to stop.”

Mr Angell, of Swinsty Bridge in Allentown, says he can see the argument for the scheme.

“I can understand why people might want it because it means jobs for people – perhaps in Sellafield but it doesn’t bring jobs for people here.

“It could be the size of Workington and everything they pull out of the ground can’t be used anywhere else – they are just going to pile it up.

“They say it contains a lot of chromium and that is a toxic metal.

“What if it got into the water course?”

His wife Denise, who moved to the area from her native Manchester in 1974, is not convinced by the scheme.

“There were experts speaking in Silloth and everything they said just pointed towards going against it. You have got to go with the experts.”

The 63-year-old adds that it was the geology of the area that had convinced her it was not suitable.

Also she has not been satisfied with the official consultation process.

“If SPAND hadn’t brought it to people’s attention people would be completely ignorant about it.

“It is the damage that it could do for future generations. Who knows what is going to happen to it?”

Ashley Harrison, whose family has run the village shop in Main Street for the past 40 years, says he has his own views on the underground dump – but they are better kept to himself.

“At the minute people are thinking it’s a long way into the future but people are beginning to get more concerned. Once it comes to the crunch the majority are against it.”

Councillor Tony Markley, whose Allerdale Council ward includes Abbeytown, is one of the county council cabinet members who will be involved in the debate on Wednesday.

He says he cannot comment on the decision before the meeting because of ‘predetermination’ – he should not be seen to have made his mind up beforehand.

Mr Markley has received a huge amount of feedback from the public and feels a weight of responsibility with next week’s vote drawing near.

Martin Forewood, from the campaign group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), explains that they have not been involved in campaigning against the scheme yet because no specific site has been chosen.

“I hope the councils will say no to going onto the next stage but Copeland will probably say yes – their history shows they are tied to the industry – they’d love to have an underground dump. I hope they will change their minds.

“There are significant doubts about the geology so many people have opposed this, including the parish councils.”

However John Clarke, the chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, believes that we do not have a choice over whether or not to deal with the UK’s stockpile of higher activity radioactive waste.

“Previous generations have simply ignored this problem and the responsibility has fallen to us now to deal with it.

“In line with virtually every other major nuclear power, the Government has opted for deep geological disposal as its preferred method for disposing of this waste.

“In doing so it has the support of international bodies including the Nuclear Energy Agency, European Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The scientific consensus worldwide is that geological disposal is the safest long-term disposal route for higher activity waste.”

He adds that a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) will only go ahead in Cumbria if a geologically suitable site is found and the support of the host community was established.

“If these two criteria are not met, the search for a site would end.

“A GDF has the potential to be transformational for west Cumbria – it would create hundreds of jobs for over a century and related infrastructure could provide hundreds more.

“It would also unlock a package of investment on a scale never previously seen here, ensuring the area’s infrastructure and services are improved.”

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