Yesterday, the three local authorities that have engaged in detail in the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) programme to date, Cumbria County Council, Allerdale Borough Council and Copeland Borough Council, all voted on whether to progress to Stage 4 of the process, which would include work to identify and assess potential sites for a GDF.
This was not a decision on whether to host a GDF; merely whether to progress to the next stage of the process, which would produce more information and begin to answer technical questions regarding potential sites for further investigation. In Stage 4, the local authorities would retain the same right to withdraw from the programme that they have had throughout Stages 1 to 3.
Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils voted in favour of participating in the next stage, which I very much welcome, but Cumbria County Council voted against proceeding to Stage 4.
Cumbria County Council’s vote against further participation does not come as a surprise, and indeed this decision point was built deliberately into the process in order to enable local authorities to consider their future role and halt their involvement if they chose to do so. Of course, I respect the council’s decision.
For the process set out in the 2008 White Paper to move to the next stage in west Cumbria, we agreed with the local authorities that there should be consent at both borough and county level. Despite extensive efforts, such agreement has not proved possible. Accordingly, we must bring the current site selection process to a close in west Cumbria.
The Government remains firmly committed to nuclear power as a key part of our future energy mix and to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher-activity radioactive waste. The Government also continues to hold the view that the best means of selecting a site for a GDF is an approach based on voluntarism and partnership working.
Evidence from abroad shows that this approach can work, with similar waste disposal programmes based on these key principles making good progress in countries like Finland, Sweden and France.
The fact that two local authorities in the UK voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a GDF demonstrates that communities recognise the substantial benefits associated with hosting such a facility – both in terms of job creation and the wider benefits associated with its development.
The construction of a GDF is a multi-billion pound infrastructure investment. It will directly create hundreds of jobs for many decades, even more during peak construction periods, and potentially hundreds more in the supply chain and in local service industries.
The Government is also committed to providing a community benefits package, potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds, to support the social and economic well being of the host community, which will have a lasting impact for generations.
The Government remains committed to the objective of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme as set out in the 2008 White Paper, and I am optimistic that a site for the GDF will be found.
The invitation for communities to come forward and express an interest in the site selection process for a GDF, without commitment, as set out in the MRWS White Paper, remains open. My Department will 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.
At the same time, we will 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 our current approach on site selection will be introduced without further consultation.
So the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme continues. But this is a good opportunity for us to consider whether we can improve any details of process within that programme, and of course we always reserve the right to re-consult to make further changes if that is necessary.
The Government’s position regarding prospective new nuclear power stations has been clear that there must be provision in the long-term for safe disposal of higher-activity waste produced by new nuclear power stations. The Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme is a long-term one, and I am confident that it is sound and that it will be put into effect. The decisions by the councils in Cumbria do not change this. Nor do these decisions undermine the prospects for new nuclear power stations.
Until such time as a GDF is implemented, it remains the Government’s policy that higher-activity radioactive waste should continue to be held in interim storage, which domestic and international experience indicates is safe and effective and will remain so for as long as is necessary.