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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

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‘We’re in limbo’ says Copeland council leader after nuclear waste meeting with minister

The future for Cumbria’s huge stockpile of higher level radioactive nuclear waste stored at Sellafield remains shrouded in confusion.

Elaine Woodburn photo
Elaine Woodburn

Senior councillors and west Cumbria’s two MPs – Copeland’s Jamie Reed, and Workington MP Tony Cunningham – have now met with energy minister Baroness Verma and Energy Secretary Ed Davey for talks to find a solution to the problem.

The meeting came after Cumbria County Council vetoed plans to continue investigating the west of the county as a possible site for an underground nuclear dump.

A spokesman for Baroness Verma refused to rule out a new process to find a site for the dump which would allow Copeland and Allerdale to remain as possible candidate communities.

“Currently, they can’t re-enter the process,” he said.

“But I can’t pre-empt what the way forward will be. We would need a new process for them to be involved, and I can’t say we are going to have one and I can’t say we are not going to have one.”

He stressed any new process would only be introduced after public consultation.

But in her statement, issued after meeting the west Cumbrian politicians, Baroness Verma said the process which led to Cumbria’s rejection of the dump plan – called Managing Radioactive Waste Safely – has not ended.

She said her meeting with the west Cumbrian politicians – including Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn and Allerdale leader Alan Smith – had been helpful.

She said: “We were clear that because of the county council’s decision not to proceed to the next stage, the current site selection process has ended in west Cumbria.

“However it is right we remain engaged with local leaders on these issues, partly to learn the lessons of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process in Cumbria, and partly because they have an ongoing interest in the management of the waste held in interim storage at Sellafield. The MRWS programme continues, and we are keen for communities elsewhere in the country to express an interest in joining it.

“We will also be considering whether any changes are required to the process.”

Mr Reed insisted a “new process” is needed to resolve the future of nuclear waste.

He said: “The MRWS process in Cumbria is dead, but the problem of radioactive waste management at Sellafield intensifies as a result and a new process is obviously now required.”

He said the Government, along with Copeland and Allerdale councils, had a “shared understanding” of radioactive waste management issues and the “need to move forward quickly.”

He added: “We made it clear that we were not lobbying for a truncated process or a fast-forward route towards creating a geological disposal facility (GDF) in west Cumbria, but that we need to know whether or not the geology of the Sellafield area is suitable for hosting a GDF or not.

“This knowledge is amongst the most important factor in any process or policy. We again stressed the three consistent points that we have always made with regard to any future GDF: that the geology has to be right, that the multi-billion pound investment package accompanying a GDF has to be acceptable and that the final decision should be put to local people in the shape of a referendum.

“It was an extremely constructive discussion and this dialogue will continue.”

Mrs Woodburn added: “We’re in limbo. We have to accept the existing process has not worked here.”

She suggested a failings of the MRWS process was that it gave Cumbrian communities outside of west Cumbria – who she says would be least affected by the building of a repository – equal say on the plan to Copeland and Allerdale.

“I don’t decide what happens in Carlisle,” she said, adding that west Cumbria could not walk away from the waste problem.

Mrs Woodburn stressed that what was needed was an answer to whether the area’s geology made it a suitable site for the proposed dump.

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