15/7/2015 Letter to Ben Webster (The Times Environmental Editor)

Dear Ben,

We were surprised to see that DECC’s “Implementing Geological Disposal Annual Report” has been removed from its website apparently because it was “published in error” – but not before we had downloaded a copy (attached).

Before going through specific points from the report, I would point out that DECC’s concept of “consultation” is to simply ignore or downgrade responses that do not suit its purpose. This was evident in its determination to stick with a policy based primarily on voluntarism rather than geology despite the fact that a high percentage (59%) of responders to its consultation disagreed. Also in the initial draft for the White Paper came the proposal that in two tier authorities County Councils should be excluded from the decision making process despite the fact that this suggestion had only been made by three responders – Copeland Council, a Sellafield Trade Union representative and a six lined response from someone connected with Imperial College London. In the final version this was amended to “UK Government is currently of the view that no one tier of local government should be able to prevent the participation of other members of that community”, which still effectively deprives Cumbria CC of the ability to stand in the way of a GDF being built within the county against DECC’s wishes. This does not bode well for the consultations due to take place under the current process.

Para 2: Note CoRWM when advocating the GDF policy, for at that time legacy waste only, added “coupled with safe and secure interim storage”. This is very relevant and Cumbria Trust advocates the urgent need for safe and secure near surface interim storage facilities especially at Sellafield where something needs to be done to deal with the intolerable risk to the environment and local population reported by members of the Public Accounts Committee.

Para 4: “A number of communities engaged with his process”. It was only two district councils and a county council covering the same area that was previously looked at under the Nirex process.

Para 5: “Siting a GDF based on a willingness of local communities to participate”. As you probably already know under the previous MRWS process an overwhelming percentage of Parish Councillors within Copeland and Allerdale voted against proceeding. The only properly conducted opinion poll was carried out in Ennerdale (a suspected target area for siting a GDF) and this showed that very few of the residents supported continuation (on a 72% turnout 94% voted against proceeding). The whole issue of defining “communities” is central to this process and open to interpretation by DECC to best suit its purposes. A close watch will need to be maintained over the Community Representation Working Group to ensure that it is able to carry out its functions without bowing to pressure from DECC, RWM etc.

Para 6: “Following public consultation on draft proposals in 2013, the Government published a renewed process for siting a GDF in 2014”. I have already commented on this.

A lot of the “Publication of Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper” section (starting at Para 8) has already been covered. A danger of it proving to be MRWS Mk2. The initial actions mentioned in para 12 have already been covered in the first of the two Cumbria Trust letters sent to you (below). Para 13 mentions that” the Scottish Government has a separate higher activity radioactive waste policy”. This seems to include sending breeder reactor material from the decommissioning of Dounreay to Sellafield.

Para 16: “The National Geological Screening initial action will not definitively rule out all areas as either suitable or unsuitable ……..”. As said previously in CT’s letter this leaves the door open for volunteers to come forward from areas with geology that is known to be much less likely to be suitable for the construction of safe GDFs rather than concentration on seeking communities from areas with more promising geology. This brings us back to the issue of “what is a community”?

Para 17: “The process is being carried out in an open and transparent way with the draft screening guidance first being developed by RWM, informed by discussions with experts and interested stakeholders”. Danger of too much control being left in the hands of RWM. As mentioned in CT’s letter concern was expressed by members of the Independent Review Panel about RWM being left to write the narrative for the screening guidance.

Para 19 & 20: “the Planning Act 2008 has been amended by the Infrastructure Planning (Radioactive Waste Geological Disposal Facilities) Order 2015, bringing GDFs and their related deep borehole investigations (in England within the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects, with effect from 27 March 2015”. In the original post MRWS consultation only 3% of responders suggested that GDFs should be classified as NSIPs. Originally the legislation was going to be dealt with by subcommittees. The Government was eventually forced to allow MPs a vote on the matter but without any debate whatsoever, which contradicts what is said in para 20.

Para 21: “The inclusion of GDFs and investigatory boreholes within the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects enables further work to develop a National Policy Statement, and accompanying assessments, in respect of geological disposal infrastructure that will further define the planning process for a GDF”. This effectively means that planning permission is ultimately in the hands of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and not with local authorities.

The WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES Section starting at para 22: The CRWG, chaired by DECC supported by RWM, has a very important and complex job to do. Note its objectives in Para 27
Developing approaches to defining ‘communities’ in areas interested in learning more about a GDF, and options for effective community representation;
Defining roles and responsibilities for community representatives and an understanding of how those roles could evolve alongside the GDF siting process;
Developing options for ensuring that all levels of local government have a voice in the GDF siting process;
Providing greater clarity around the point at which a test of public support might be considered appropriate, and the method by which such a test could be carried out;
Developing options for future disbursement of community investment, including management of any investment package, assessment of any funding applications and the ability of communities to influence investment within their geographic areas.

Failure to ensure that these activities are seen to be carried out properly and rationally will undermine the whole Implementation process. It is a sad reflection that West Cumbria has to date been deprived of a proper recompense for hosting 70% of the UK’s radioactive waste, with areas of deprivation so close to Sellafield.

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS section starting at para 28: The only working (or once working) GDF is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant at Carlsbad in New Mexico. No mention of this is made in this report – I wonder why! Also a legal challenge has been made in Canada to the proposal to construct a GDF close to Lake Huron.

CORWM starting at para 30: I have attached a copy of Cumbria Trust’s response to the Second Triennial Review of CoRWM. Comments about CoRWM were included in CT’s email to Professor Hawlesworth (below).


Para 35 National Geological screening: “ The draft screening guidance will be reviewed by an Independent Review Panel”. This has now taken place and speaking to two of the panel members (one from Sweden and the other from Canada), after the meeting on 23 June, they could not understand why they had been invited to attend as they were expecting to be reviewing a much more technical document.

Para 37 Working with Communities: “A call for evidence in summer 2015, to draw together evidence and information on processes for working with communities in the siting of a GDF. In particular, it will focus on the issues of community representation, community investment and the test of public support.The responses to this call for evidence will be used to help the CRWG develop proposals for how each of these areas will work in practice during the siting process”. The Call for Evidence document was issued on 1 July 2015. It remains to be seen how much notice will be taken of responses that don’t fit in with DECC’s vision of requirements.

Please get in touch, if you require any additional information.


On behalf of Cumbria Trust