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Lots of government incentives fail to win Cumbrians: nuclear waste dump rejected

flag-UKCumbria sticks it to the nuclear dump lobby – despite all the carrots on offer Guardian UK, Terry Macalister, 31 Jan 13, Council’s decision to turn down the hosting of huge underground nuclear waste depository is a body blow for government Cumbria county council’s decision to “dump the dump” by voting against a nuclear waste repository close to the Lake District has drilled a nasty great hole in the middle of the government’s wider nuclear strategy.

Ministers had made clear that part of the agreement with the public over a new generation of atomic power stations would involve finding a safe and permanent home for the high-level waste created by the old ones.

Cumbria’s decision is a body blow for government because though it may not necessarily have been the most geologically suitable spot, it certainly was the most politically suitable.

Oscar-wastesThe “energy coast”, as the region calls itself, is home to Sellafield, formerly Windscale, the largest nuclear complex in Europe with more than 5,000 well-paid jobs, as well as the nuclear submarine-building base at Barrow-in-Furness.

Even a secretarial job there can pay £10 an hour, and to win votes in the local constituency you need to pin your nuclear colour – yellow – to the mast, as the MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, and his predecessor, “Neutron Jack” Cunningham, have done.

The Unite union, representing many Sellafield workers, can also be relied upon to bang the nuclear drum on a national level, and was quick to condemn the county council’s decision on Wednesday.

The government had dangled all kinds of carrots in front of Cumbria’s local and regional councils, including the prospect that up to 1,000 jobs could be created from the proposed £12bn underground project. It made some headway when Copeland and Allerdale councils voted in favour of further dialogue, but that was not enough without the county council.

Now, if an area steeped in a nuclear culture is not prepared to countenance a waste dump, then who will?……

Government attempts to allow low-level atomic waste in traditionally approved sites such as King’s Cliffe near Peterborough and Lilyhall in Cumbria have also faced huge opposition.

A lot of the high-level waste planned for a dump to be opened in Cumbria before the middle of this century is currently stored above ground at Sellafield. The rest is kept in the same way at the atomic power plants where it was created, such as Sizewell in Suffolk.

Another option would be to bury the waste at sea or ship it abroad, as has happened with spent nuclear fuel to Japan and Germany. Technically, both could be done but the environmental and political opposition would be immense.

The US government has been battling to dump waste in the middle of an unpopulated desert, and it is impossible to imagine any country, other than one that is seriously impoverished, giving the idea of waste imports more than five minutes’ thought. That looks like a non-starter so reopening dialogue with Cumbrians may be the only option.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, knows this as he sets out on a heroic sales job to try to save the repository and potentially a new nuclear power programme beset with delays and rows over subsidy levels.

There will now be enormous pressure on those unco-operative Cumbrian county councillors. Davey was no doubt thinking of them when he said: “For any host community, there will be a substantial community benefits package and worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring.”

February 1, 2013 - Posted by | politics, UK, wastes

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