The West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership agreed its Final Report yesterday (Thursday 19th July).
The Partnership includes all the Cumbrian councils, as well as organisations such as the Lake District National Park, Cumbria Tourism, the National Farmers Union and the Cumbria Association of Local Councils, which represents the parish councils.
The report sets out the Partnership’s opinions on the issues that would be involved in taking part in a search to see if there is anywhere suitable for a repository for higher activity radioactive waste.
The report will now go to Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council who will decide whether to take part in detailed studies and investigations looking at geology and other factors.
Cllr Elaine Woodburn, the current Chair of the Partnership says: “Over the last three years the Partnership has considered reports, heard from experts, commissioned independent research and invited reviews by independent experts. We have also placed a high priority on involving the public.
“There is a considerable amount of detail in this report and we hope people will take the time to consider our opinions and advice. The report does not provide any simple answers because these are complex issues and many of them can only properly be considered if more detailed work is carried out.
“It is now up to the three Councils, as the Decision Making Bodies in this process, to weigh up the evidence on all sides of the debate. The Councils will then decide whether to take part in a search to find out if there is anywhere in the Allerdale or Copeland areas that is suitable for a nuclear waste repository.
“If we take part in this process the Councils would still have a right to withdraw but the decision that needs to be made now is still an important one.”
The Partnership has spent the last few months considering responses to the public consultation which ran from November 2011 to March 2012. Around 2,300 people and organisations contributed their views on the Partnership’s initial opinions and a wide range of issues were raised. This has led to some significant changes to the Partnership’s Final Report.
One of the most important changes was to advise that prior to a decision to take part in the search for a site there should be a commitment that the Government will make key parts of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process legally binding, in particular the right of the Councils to withdraw up until the point where work could start on building a repository. The Partnership has received this commitment from the Government.
The full report runs to more than 200 pages and sets out the Partnership’s opinion and advice on a wide range of issues.
For example, the Partnership has developed a set of ‘Inventory Principles’ to ensure a community would be involved in decisions about the waste that will go into a repository. The Partnership says sufficient progress has been made towards agreeing these principles with the Government.
Finding a suitable rock formation that can act as an effective barrier would be essential for the construction of a safe disposal facility.
Some experts have argued that West Cumbria’s geology is unsuitable and it would therefore not be worth taking part in further investigations. However, other experts have said that further progress is worthwhile because not enough is yet known about the geology of West Cumbria.
The Partnership says ‘it is inherently uncertain at this stage whether a suitable site can be found; that more geological work is therefore required; and that it should be done as soon as possible’.
However, the report says there is a difference of view in the Partnership about whether ‘further geological work should be done before or after a Decision about Participation’ in the search for somewhere to put a repository.
One of the changes made to the report as a result of the consultation was to advise that, if the process continues, funding would have to be made available by the Government so that independent reviews of technical work, such as the geological investigations, can be carried out on behalf of the community.
Other issues covered in the report include impacts and community benefits. The report points out that if a repository was to be sited in West Cumbria it could lead to a number of different negative and positive impacts. These include the immediate effects of construction such as noise and dust, traffic impacts, possible effects on the visual or physical environment and on tourism and effects on investment and jobs.
The Partnership says: ‘Our overall opinion is that, at this stage, we are fairly confident that an acceptable process can be put in place to assess and mitigate negative impacts, and maximise positive impacts’.
The report also says that areas within the National Park should not be considered for the facilities that would need to be sited above ground ‘because of the likely impact this would have on the special qualities of the Park, which would not be consistent with current planning policies’.
The Government has said that any area in which a geological disposal facility is sited would receive some kind of community benefits package. The Partnership has agreed a set of principles with the Government as a basis for any future negotiations on a benefits package. These principles were further strengthened as a result of responses to the consultation.
The Partnership says: ‘This gives us a certain amount of confidence that an acceptable community benefits package could be negotiated’. However, they advise that: ‘a final decision to accept a repository should only be made if the community is convinced Government – and future Governments that follow – will honour commitments on community benefits’.
Details of all the Partnership’s opinions and advice can be found in the Final Report, which will be available at www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk in a few weeks.
As well as considering the Partnership’s report and the responses to the consultation, the Councils will also take account of the separate, statistically representative opinion survey conducted by Ipsos MORI.
The Partnership said the views of people living in the Allerdale and Copeland areas are particularly important as this is where a repository could be sited. The survey shows that there are more people in favour of taking part in the search for a site than who are opposed in these areas and in Cumbria overall.
However, the Partnership has been clear that the survey needs to be considered alongside the results of the consultation in order to get a full picture of public opinion.
The Councils are likely to make their decisions during the autumn. In order for an area to proceed to the next stage there would need to be agreement by a borough council and the county council.
The Government says it is committed to an approach based on voluntarism. This means that communities would express willingness to search for a site for a potential repository, and perhaps ultimately host a facility, rather than having it forced upon them. However, the Government has also made it clear that if a site is not geologically suitable or safe for a repository, it would not be built.