Copeland votes 6 to 1 for stage 4, Cumbria votes 7 to 3 Against

The cabinet of Copeland Borough Council voted by six votes to one yesterday to proceed to stage four of the MRWS process to try to find a more permanent solution to the disposal of the 200 tonnes of plutonium oxide and other radioactive by-products which are already here in West Cumbria.

However, the county council's cabinet voted seven to three against continuing the process.

The national media lost interest in Allerdale council's decision as soon as Cumbria CC voted against but I understand that Allerdale's executive voted by five to two in favour.

Hugh Branney was the one Copeland cabinet member who voted against stage four, which will undoubtedly make him a hero in the eyes of some and a villain in the eyes of others.

The decision did not split on party political lines.

I've made no secret that I think it would have been in the county's interest and Britain's interests to proceed to stage four so that we could have established whether the geology for a deep repository in Copeland or Allerdale is right. Nobody I know was arguing that such a repository should go ahead if proper investigation did not confirm first that the geology was suitable on the proposed site and all the key players agreed that there should be a local referendum first.

I'm not going to criticise any of the councillors over this as they have all done a thankless task in investigating the options and been subject to a great deal of pressure, some of which has gone well over the line.

Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen gave the game away about the real agenda of some of the groups campaigning against stage four shortly after the vote when she told Sky news

 "This decision represents yet another major blow for the Government's attempts to force the construction of costly nuclear power plants.

"Even the Prime Minister admits we need a plan to store waste before we can build a single new plant.

"This decision shows that dumping waste in uncertain geology near one of the country's most pristine national parks is not a solution.

"Ministers must now reconsider their nuclear ambitions and turn their attention instead to clean, sustainable and renewable energy."

So she is now using this vote on waste as an argument to block nuclear new build.

The problem with linking the two issues is that even if there are no nuclear power stations - which leaves us with the unenviable choice of power cuts or depending on that nice Mr Putin to sell of lots of gas when the wind isn't blowing at the right speed for the wind turbines - we still have to put the two hundred tons of plutonium oxide and hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which are already stored in West Cumbria somewhere.

A depressing number of people campaigning against the result or indulging in ill-informed celebration at the results have written things like "This nuclear toxic and highly dangerous radioactive waste is neither wanted or needed in our county." to quote one of the comments left on the Whitehaven News site.

Get real. The waste is here now and even some of the protesters - the ones with any pretensions to honesty or responsibility - admitted that if we don't build an underground repository we will have to build a more permanent surface one.

There is talk in some parts of Cumbria other than Copeland about sending the waste elsewhere, and the government has now said they will talk to other communities about the advantages of hosting a geological disposal facility - but here we run into the problem created by the so called "Green" party and Greenpeace campaign.

Suppose the government does start a similar process in another part of the country, which I can see that to avoid looking like they're not serious about local choice they almost have to try to do.

Did you hear Greenpeace or the Green party promise not to run a campaign like the one they've just run in Cumbria in any other place where a nuclear facility of any kind is proposed? Me neither.

Does anyone seriously believe that a proposal to put nuclear waste in any other part of the country would not be almost certain to be derailed by such a campaign?

And it such a proposal is blocked by the sort of campaign we have just seen in Cumbria, or never gets off the ground in the first place, that brings us right back to square one and the original question, what do we do with the hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which we already have here in Cumbria?

So I'm not ignoring the results of a democratic vote, but simply reflecting reality, when I say that this issue is not going to go away.

The secretary of state, Ed Davey, issued the following press statement after the Copeland and CCC votes (and presumably before the Allerdale one):

Cumbria County Council has voted to withdraw from the process to find a host community for an underground radioactive waste disposal facility.

Copeland Borough Council voted in favour of remaining in the process to identify a host community for a geological disposal facility. However, it has previously been agreed that parties at both Borough and County level needed to vote positively in order for the process to continue in west Cumbria. As such, the current process will be brought to a close in west Cumbria.

The Government will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of communities, and to encourage further local authorities to come forward over the coming years to join the process.

The Government will also reflect on the experience of the process in west Cumbria, and will talk to the local authorities themselves and others who have been involved to see what lessons can be learned. No changes to the current approach will be introduced without further public consultation.

Responding to the Councillors’ decisions, Edward Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, said:

“We respect the decision made today by Cumbria councillors. They have invested a great deal of time in this project and have provided valuable lessons on how to take forward this process in future.

While their decision to withdraw is disappointing, Cumbria will continue to play a central role in the energy and nuclear power sectors.

“We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. I am confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations.

“It is however absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long.

“We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste. We also remain committed to the principles of voluntarism and a community-led approach.

“The fact that Copeland voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a GDF demonstrates that communities recognise the benefits associated with hosting such a facility.

“For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, 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.

“We will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of other communities.”


Anonymous said…
Most of the objectors (the ones you are discounting) are not opposed to Nuclear Energy or the principle of an Underground Dump, they are opposed to an Underground Dump in a geologically unsuitable location. If west cumbria was the most geologically suitable location in the United Kingdom then fair enough, but we all know that it isn't. It is in fact one of the most geologically unsuitable locations for such a facility.

Chris Whiteside said…
I am not discounting anyone's objections.

I am disgreeing with the decision not to do more work to find out whether the geology is suitable.

We certainly do not "all know" that West Cumbria is a geographically unsuitable location for such a facility. This is not a fact. It is an unproven opinion which some people hold. I wanted stage four to go ahead so we could find out whether itis true or not.
Anonymous said…
Are you advocating we ignore the International guidelines for a Dump? We already know that West cumbria may have some crystalline rocks of dubious quality but the relief is all wrong, and where the relief is more favourable for a dump the rocks are all wrong.

Much more geologicaly suitable areas are available, but they are not in West Cumbria.
Chris Whiteside said…
It's an interesting sign of whether someone has an open mind about what to do with the hundreds of tons of nuclear by-products which are already here in Cumbria that the people who appear determined to oppose investigation of what the facts actually are invariably identify themselves by referring to any proposed storage facilty for nuclear waste as a "dump."

The proposal was to further investigate over a period of years whether the geology is suitable for a repository. If you are right and the geology really is unsuitable, that would have come out of the stage four survey.

Copeland and Allerdale between them cover a gigantic area. The evidence which would justify a sweeping assertion such as your claim that this entire area is geologically unsuitable for a nuclear storage facility does not exist.

I support gathering the evidence to make an informed decision. If it really was proved that there was no site in West Cumbria which is geologically suitable for an underground repository for nuclear waste I do not know of anyone who would still want such a proposal to go ahead.
Chris Whiteside said…
For the avoidance of doubt, I would only support the construction of a Geological Repository or any other long term solution for the storage of waste of the geological survey showed that it could be safely constructed in line with the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, other relevant treaties signed by the UK, and other applicable internatinal treaties and standards associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Before a final decision can be taken on any proposed facility, , the work needs to be done first to establish exactly what the proposal is, whether geology is suitable, and whether the proposal otherwise complies.

Anyone on either side of the debate who thinks they already know for certain either that there is a site in West Cumbria which is definately suitable, or that there isn't a single site in the area which is suitable, is allowing their opinions to run ahead of the known facts.
Anonymous said…
Isn't this the same argument Tobacco companies used in the face of the evidence.
Chris Whiteside said…
Not exactly, no, but even if it had been, the key question is not who else uses an argument but whether it is valid.

Some people ignore scientific evidence which they ought to pay attention to. But sometimes arguments which are presented as "evidence" turn out to be deeply flawed, or unsupported assertions, when properly investigated.

Believe it or not, the anti-nuclear lobby are occasionally sometimes prone themselves to act in the way you are suggesting that tobacco companies act, e.g. ignore scientific evidence which is inconvenient.

As a general rule, when one side of the argument is saying "We think we may have a problem and we want to do some research into how to deal with it" and the other side claim to already know the answer and want to kill any research or any proposed solution, a wise person will make sure to give the former group a fair opportunity to make their case and ensure that some intelligent and open-minded scepticism is applied to the arguments of the second group.

And on MRWS it was the people arguing for stage 4 who wanted to do the research. If anyone was acting like the tobacco companies it was the anti-nuclear lobby.
Anonymous said…
Since when was the MRWS process supposed to be rational and based on science? No geologist (without a vested interest in the MRWS process) would suggest West Cumbria as a sensible site for a GDF. The BGS, Nirex and the NDA do know where sensible areas to properly investigate are, but refuse to do so in favour of politicking.
Chris Whiteside said…
Now you are just being silly.

West Cumbria is a huge area. It is reasonable to assume that some parts of that area may be found to be geologically unsuitable if investigated, but to know that the whole area is unsuitable you would have to do a major study of the entire area.

Such a study has not been done, that is what stage four was about.

And if you are convinced that there are more geologically suitable areas, why don't you say where they are? Preferably in more detail than "somewhere in the East of England" as suggested in one not very helpful comment made by another person on this subject.

Put up something concrete - way where would be a better site for the waste which is currently here in Cumbria and has to stay here or go somewhere, and then we can debate it.

Just saying that there are other more suitable places but not saying where they are or why they are more geologically suitable does not move the argument forward.
Chris Whiteside said…

Comments on this thread or about the nuclear waste issue will only be published if they are signed or identified until further notice.

Anonymous comments will be deleted.
Chris Whiteside said…
I have declined to accept a post, because it wasn't signed, which I would have allowed if the individual who submitted it had included his or her name.

I am often willing to accept anonymous posts but sometimes the absence of any indication of who a comment is coming from is unhelpful and I think this thread had reached that point.

If the originator of the deleted comment chooses to resubmit it, and sign it this time, I will publish it.
Chris Whiteside said…
Incidentally one suggestion which was made to me in the past few days by someone who too a different view from me about MRWS Stage four, but whose views I respect, is that the goverment should consider commissioning more research to find where the most suitable geography is over the UK as a whole.

I found that to be a positive suggestion which deserves very serious consideration.
Chris Whiteside said…
People are still attempting to leave unsigned posts on this thread - ironically including one from someone who accused me of not paying attention but who is open to the same response themselves.

For the third time, this thread is now closed to anonymous comments: if you want to comment on this thread, sign your name.

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