Following a meeting with ministers local council leader that backed plan concedes current process to find a site has ended

Nuclear - Sellafield

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The current process to identify a site for long-term nuclear waste storage in Cumbria is “dead” the leader of a Cumbrian council that backed the plans has conceded.

Energy secretary Ed Davey and energy minister Baroness Verma met with the leaders of Copeland and Allerdale councils and local MP Jamie Reed yesterday to discuss how they might proceed with the process to find a location for a long-term nuclear waste storage facility in Cumbria.

Cumbria County Council voted against the plans earlier this month - despite Copeland and Allerdale district councils voting in favour - effectively vetoing the plans.

The councils were the last group participating in the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, which was designed to find a location for a long-term storage facility through a competition between local authorities.

After the meeting, Copeland council leader Elaine Woodburn accepted that the current process was now “dead” and that the government would need to start fresh process to identify a possible site.

She said the government must learn lessons from the failed process, adding that local communities and local councils should have more say over the plans. “The people who had an influence and who had a say over this lived 50 miles away and they made their decision with feelings rather than facts,” she said.

Cumbria council’s veto means there has been no detailed examination of the geology of the area to establish if it is even suitable for a nuclear waste storage facility.

Woodburn said she wanted an exploration of the area so she could present the facts to resident in a local referendum. “It’s the local community that should have the power,” she said.

After the meeting Baroness Verma said the government would learn lessons from the process. “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 that we remain engaged with local leaders on these issues, partly to learn the lessons of the 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.”

Jamie Reed MP said the meeting had not been about lobbying for “a truncated process or a fast-forward route” towards creating a waste storage facility.

But he said the local councils needed to know “whether or not the geology of the Sellafield area is suitable for hosting a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) or not”.

He said: “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.”