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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Technical glitch puts nuclear store consultation date back

The deadline for people to have their say on how the Government will search for a massive underground nuclear storage site has been extended.

Save the Lakes protest photo
The search for a storage site has divided opinion

Public consultation on the process to find somewhere to keep high-level atomic waste was supposed to end yesterday.

But a technical glitch at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has meant some responses sent to the Government were not received on time.

Civil servants have, therefore, decided that the cut-off for opinions should run until December 19.

An energy department spokesman said all the replies will be examined. A formal Government response will be released within 12 weeks of the cut-off date.

The prospect of a new process being used to find possible geological disposal facility locations has triggered fierce debate in Cumbria.

The county council controversially rejected progressing down a route to properly search for potential locations this year.

That was despite Allerdale and Copeland councils wanting to continue. Progress was dependent on county and district authorities agreeing.

Fresh Government proposals for a new process would remove the county’s right to veto amid criticism that the views of parish councils could also be sidelined.

Among those formally responding to the proposals this week is the environmental campaign group Three Weeks to Save the Lakes.

It has 719 members in Cumbria and beyond and has pulled together a lengthy reply to the consultation – some of it critical of the potential for opponents of the proposals being sidelined.

Their response states: “The proposal creates a scenario whereby just one body [presumably district council] becomes decision maker at a number of levels.

“Giving authority to one body to volunteer, implement, guide and decide on all aspects of GDF is undemocratic and open to abuse.

“There is no impartiality or ultimate accountability. In the pursuit of fair and just process it is vital that independent governance be sought, the remits of each tier of governance respected and the views of all affected communities be taken into account.”

The response’s nine key points are:

  • The right of withdrawal should be available to host communities at any point during the process;
  • The removal of Cumbria County Council from the decision making process is a “blatant attempt to silence dissent”;
  • The Government’s decision to revise roles in the siting process is “an abuse of the Localism agenda” and “a blatant attempt to manipulate the eventual outcome”.
  • The geological suitability of the chosen site should be more important than the community’s willingness to have the waster stored there.
  • Geology should come first, then volunteerism, followed by independent scrutiny and decision making. However, the time-scale proposed in the consultation document is too short, the group adds.
  • Any inventory for geological disposal should be specific about its contents – communities need to know exactly what they are volunteering for before they step forward.
  • If an authority which is in economic strife volunteers, it is possible that any economic benefits could be “used or perceived as bribery”.
  • All information on any benefits should be provided by an independent body so as to avoid conflicts of interest and personal agendas.
  • There should be a moratorium on Cumbria as a location for a facility, due to its repeated identification as unsuitable for the purpose.

A number of organisations have argued that a referendum of residents in the whole of Cumbria should be held to decide whether detailed geological studies should be carried out in Cumbria.

Many of the most prominent protests ahead of debate earlier this year was along the Solway coast in and around Silloth.

The British Geological Survey has carried out a screening exercise that has already ruled out a quarter of Allerdale and Copeland.

Much of the rest of of the potential places are within the Lake District National Park, which would probably not be considered on environmental grounds. That leaves a coastal strip between Egremont and Drigg, a sizeable part of the Solway Plain west of Abbeytown and a corridor just outside the national park from Egremont through Cockermouth to Thursby.

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