Representatives across the county have shared their delight, as the first step has officially been taken on a project that could create thousands of jobs.

Yesterday, a Working Group was formed to begin local engagement on whether Copeland would be a suitable location for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for UK higher activity radioactive waste.

The group, which currently includes Copeland Borough Council and Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), can now begin to ask residents their thoughts on the GDF being created in the borough, with no commitment to siting it.

Mark Cullinan, independent Chair of the Copeland GDF Working Group, said: “[Yesterday] marked the first step in a journey of several years, to determine whether a Geological Disposal Facility is right for Copeland.

“The infrastructure investment potential represented by such a facility could be transformational for the eventual host community – both directly through the construction and operation of the GDF and also potentially significant multi-million pounds of additional investment – but, of course, it would have to be right for the area.

“I’m delighted to be joining the Copeland GDF Working Group as its independent Chair, as we begin to talk to local people to understand the issues and opportunities and listen to their views.”

Other groups and bodies could be invited to join the Working Group, including representatives from the Cumbria Association of Local Councils (CALC).

If the project gets the go-ahead, it will support at its peak about 2,000 jobs during the initial construction phase, with an average of about 1,000 jobs to support operations in the next 100 years – including jobs in engineering and business support.

And Councillor David Moore, Copeland Borough Council’s portfolio holder for Nuclear Services, is proud to be involved, saying: “Copeland council’s participation in the Working Group means that the council, on behalf of our whole community, will play a key role in the process to establish whether there is a suitable location and willing host community for a GDF in Copeland.

“Regardless of a final location for a GDF, the Copeland community is affected fundamentally as the vast majority of materials that would go for disposal are located here, and the Sellafield site will be at the front end of the operational phase for decades to come.”

He continued: “The fact that there are interested parties within the borough and now on the Working Group means that the time is right for Copeland – as a borough – to enter into the dialogue too.

“We set out our stall that the Lake District National Park should be excluded from any consideration, and I am pleased that this exclusion is fully established in the Working Group’s scope from the outset.

“If there is a potentially suitable location and the process is taken forward, it would absolutely require the community’s support before any decisions were made.”

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, is also pleased to see the process moving forward.

She said: “Most of the material that would go into the GDF is already based here in Sellafield.

“A permanent place to deposit this material in Copeland would not only build on our heritage as the country’s nuclear experts, but it would also lay the ground for significant future investment in the region.

“A GDF will be one of the biggest environmental protection projects of our lifetime. It will also be one of the largest planned infrastructure investments over the next 100 years, and the opportunity to host it here is one that we simply have to look at.

“We need to look at a GDF in parallel with research and development into the future of nuclear materials at Sellafield and future nuclear power generation for West Cumbria, including new reactor technologies.”

Representatives from Trade Unions for Safe Nuclear Energy (TUSNE) and Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster (BECBC) have also expressed their excitement over the first step being taken.

TUSNE chair and Unite national officer for energy, Peter McIntosh, said: “The UK has the skills and experience to be the world leader in nuclear decommissioning and waste management.

“We have waited a long time for a solution for how the UK manages its higher radioactive waste in the long term.

“This is only the beginning of that process, but it is good to see a community prepared to seriously consider what a GDF might mean to them in terms of economic generation and well-skilled jobs for the generations to come.”

John Grainger, Executive Director of BECBC added: “It is paramount to acknowledge that this process will take several years, and that citizen engagement will be an important component of any future decision making, with the right of withdrawal at any time.

“Any such investment would create many hundreds of jobs over a long period of time in a host community.

He continued: “There is a very real opportunity for substantial commercial contracts for a localised supply chain which BECBC member companies would be well placed to benefit from, and which would help to sustain the economy for decades to come.

“As the principal supply chain member organisation in West Cumbria, we look forward to being part of the discussions at an appropriate time.”