Dealing with Nuclear Waste
Three councils in Cumbria will be taking one of the most important local government decisions I have witnessed in my lifetime on Wednesday.
The Executives of Copeland and Allerdale councils and Cumbria county council will vote on whether to proceed to stage four of the MRWS (Managing Radioactive Waste Safely).
Constrary to the outrageous and disgraceful scaremongering which the anti-nuclear lobby, stage four is a DESK-BASED study, expected to last five years, to evaluate which areas within those districts which vote to proceed might be more suitable contenders for a repository for nuclear waste than the present arrangements.
Suggestions such as were made at the public meeting in Keswick a couple of days ago - you can watch them on you-tube if you wish - that large items of drilling equipment might be taking samples on sites where they dominate some of the most beautiful views in the lake district are completely wide of the mark. There won't be any drilling unless stage five goes ahead, more than five years in the future, and even then it would not be as dramatic or harmful to scenic views as some of the more alarmist suggestions have inferred.
I was interested to talk this week to someone who runs a tourist business in this county - no names, no pack drill as I do not wish to get them boycotted by the anti-nuclear fanatics - who is by no means pro-nuclear but was alarmed by the way the tourist industry is being used as a football by the anti-nuclear campaign.
"They're pretending to be our friends" was the comment made to me about the anti-nuclear campaign, "and that the nuclear industry might damage tourism, but their scaremongering is doing at least as much damage. We're being used, and I don't like it."
We already have a very large amount of nuclear material in this county, including 200 tonnes of plutonium oxide in the plutonium containment facility at Sellafield (a superbly designed and immensely strong structure which makes Fort Knox look like a kid's piggy bank.)
Something will have to be done with the nuclear waste which already exists whether or not there is any new nuclear build. Indeed, a new generation of nuclear plants would generate sigificantly less waste over it's lifetime than we alraedy have as a result of the past fifty years of industry.
We will have to either keep the present arrangements for the waste which is already here, or find a more long-term solution Carrying out a study into whether there is a better place to store it is only common sense. It does not commit the county to anything - we can withdraw any time up to the point when construction is due to start, and that is at least a decade down the road.
I would want a referendum in the district concerned before any nuclear repository was finally agreed. The people of Copeland, (or Allerdale) must have the final say, and the opportunity to make sure we do not sell ourselves too cheaply.
But it would be a terrible mistake, and a betrayal of the future, not to finish the job of investigating whether a proposal for a better solution than the existing arrangements for nuclear waste can be prepared and put to the people so they can make an informed choice.