Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Consultation

Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Consultation

Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale Borough Council, and Cumbria County Council made an expression of interest in talking to government about siting a repository in West Cumbria, including those parts of the National Park in Copeland and Allerdale.

The Lake District National Park Authority, took up the offer of a place on the MRWS partnership in order to develop our knowledge and understanding of this process and what is involved in the development and construction of a geological disposal facility for radioactive waste.

LDNP also wanted to ensure the national community interest is fully considered given that the area currently under consideration includes parts of the national park.

It is through this partnership that they have been able to understand about the size and scale of a potential facility, and this is the reason why they have advised the partnership that planning policies, relevant strategies and legislative frameworks relating to land use will need to be considered as an early step if the process moves forward. This may rule out certain scenarios, for example siting surface facilities within the national park.

Lake District National Park Chairman Bill Jefferson recently sent a letter to the Department of Energy and Climate Change regarding the issue of finding a suitable site for a nuclear storage facility in Cumbria.

Dear Baroness Verma

MRWS: A view from the Lake District National Park

The current pause in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process offers me an opportunity to reaffirm my position with regard to the views we’ve expressed so far and to look to the longer term.

National Parks are recognised as landscapes of exceptional beauty, fashioned by nature and the communities which live in them. The statutory purposes of National Parks are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage (of National Parks); and
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.

In pursuing the statutory purposes National Park Authorities have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities.

Special qualities distinguish National Parks from each other and from other parts of the country. The Lake District’s special qualities, outlined in the Lake District National Park Partnership Plan, need to be protected and enhanced.

The 2030 Vision for the Lake District National Park is clear, interpreting the purposes and duty, and requires all partners to the Lake District National Park Partnership to be united in this achievement.

A repository within Cumbria has the potential to impact on our Vision, special qualities, and in turn our statutory purposes.

The Authority joined the MRWS Partnership to:

  • improve its understanding of the requirements of a repository;
  • understand the process;
  • work with partners to prepare a report for presenting to the Decision Making Bodies1; (DMBs) and
  • to help inform them about whether to participate in the next stage of the siting process (Stage 4) .

We submitted views to the MRWS Partnership as part of the public consultation in February 2012. These were based on what was known at the time, particularly in relation to surface facilities, and are attached as Annex 1. These views were incorporated into the final report.

Since that time the DMBs have decided to seek further information and clarity from DECC. I commend and support this decision, particularly with regard to the following issues:

  • The suitability of the geology. This remains of paramount concern to me and residents of the National Park due to a lack of definitive information. The complexity of the underlying geology, the conclusions from the NIREX inquiry, the permeability of different rock systems and hydrology all create a context of great uncertainty and anxiety; and
  • The right of withdrawal. Rightly or wrongly there is scepticism from communities and an absence of trust. Therefore I support the DMBs request that this be strengthened, making it legally binding.

I also believe that this process will take a substantial amount of time, and so support the DMBs’ request that alternative radioactive waste management solutions be considered in parallel with the MRWS programme. And I ask that current storage issues are urgently addressed.

Below ground repository

So far the Authority has not taken a definitive position on a below ground repository because we do not know the facts and risks in detail and we accept that a full understanding might only emerge many years in the future.

However there are growing and increasingly widespread concerns that a repository below the National Park or indeed a perception of such a proposal would not be in the long term interests of the Lake District, its farming and resident communities and visitor economy. Evidence suggests a potential risk to the Lake District’s brand image, and on communities that rely on this brand. The lengthy process, necessary for considering such a facility, could exacerbate this risk. While we do not know what precise impacts a repository under the National Park would have on its special qualities, I am concerned such a proposal could adversely affect the Lake District’s brand image, its national and international standing, reputation and integrity, prejudicing the delivery of the Vision to the detriment of the Cumbrian tourism economy and our statutory responsibilities.

Although we remain wholly committed to working with the DMBs and other partners to improve our collective understanding of the facts, I believe that it is important that partners and other interested organisations understand these concerns and our starting position if any decision is taken to proceed to Stage 4. I support the on-going brand management work and stress its importance. I also reiterate our support for nuclear new build at Sellafield whilst re-emphasising that attention must be given to the rapid improvement of the current storage facilities.

Yours sincerely