Important questions to be answered by Cumbria’s general election candidates.

A background to the GDF issue and a questionnaire has been formulated by CT director Rod Donington-Smith. This has been approved by the board of Cumbria Trust and is being sent to all of the Cumbria general election candidates so we can be quite clear on their own opinions on the matter.


Back in January 2013 Cumbria County Council used its Right to Withdraw the county from the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, which should have ended West Cumbria being considered as being a possible site for the construction of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for the permanent disposal of radioactive waste.

There were several reasons given for the decision to withdraw but one of the main ones was that the geology of the region has already been extensively studied and found to be very unlikely to be suitable for the construction of a safe GDF. There are many other areas of England known to have much more promising geology especially those with extensive clay deposits but to date governments have chosen to overlook them and instead focus their attention solely on West Cumbria, as that is where Sellafield and 70% of the country’s high level nuclear waste is located.

Sellafield and the nuclear industry, being by far the biggest and highest paying employers in Copeland, have got themselves into a position where they can exert undue influence on decision making within that borough. Hence the statements of regret by some within Copeland about the ending of the MRWS process. However, this was not a universal sentiment as many residents, especially those who could have been directly adversely affected (for example those living in Ennerdale), were much relieved and delighted. It is worth mentioning at this point that 85% (over £1 billion per annum) of Sellafield supply chain/decommissioning expenditure is spent outside Cumbria.

In July 2014 the White Paper “Implementing Geological Disposal” was issued. In many ways the process laid out is similar to the previous MRWS one. Whilst it does include a national geological screening exercise it, like the MRWS process, will still be based upon voluntarism. A significant difference is that this time Cumbria County Council would be effectively removed from any decision making process. Considering its range of responsibilities this seems totally illogical unless you are a government determined to neutralise opposition. Earlier comments made by the then Secretary of State for Energy indicate that this was precisely the intention.

In March 2015, following some very dubious parliamentary procedures, legislation was brought in to classify exploratory and construction work on GDFs as being Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. (see The Guardian report) This means that The Secretary of State can authorise work to be carried out without Local Authority consent. It has been stressed that no construction work will commence without a show of public support. What is meant by a show of public support has yet to be established. This new legislation may act as a disincentive to communities, who might have volunteered to be considered as possible hosts for a GDF, as they may fear that their Right of Withdrawal may be overruled by the Secretary of State.



  1. Do you believe that the construction of GDFs is the correct solution for dealing with the permanent disposal of the country’s nuclear waste?



  1. Irrespective of your answer to question 1, do you believe that before any volunteers are sought a properly conducted National Geological Screening exercise should be carried out to establish the regions which are likely to contain the most appropriate geology for the construction of the safest possible GDF?



  1. If there are no communities willing to volunteer in those areas, do you consider it appropriate for the Government/NDA to select less suitable areas where there are volunteers?



  1. Would you be happy for West Cumbria to be considered as a potential site for a GDF despite its geological shortcomings?



  1. Would you be happy for the process to proceed, if the only volunteers were yet again in West Cumbria?



  1. What is your understanding of a “Host Community”
  2. A house
  3. A street
  4. A parish or Town
  5. A District Council
  6. A County Council
  7. A region
  8. Other


  1. Do you agree with the exclusion of the County Councils in two tier authorities from the decision making process as prescribed by the White Paper?



  1. Do you believe that exploration work (such as drilling) should commence without local planning authority consent? This could be very intrusive.



  1. Do you be believe that National Parks (including LDNP) should be ruled out from consideration as sites for GDFs?



  1. Do you believe other environmentally sensitive sites such as AONBs, SACs and SSSIs should also be ruled out?



  1. Before construction work commences there needs to be a show of public support:

11-1) How should this support be assessed?



11-2) And what members of the public should be involved?:

  1. A house
  2. A street
  3. A parish or Town
  4. A District Council
  5. A County Council
  6. A region
  7. Other


  1. Do you feel that Cumbrian residents and businesses are justified in being concerned that the construction of a GDF in West Cumbria would adversely affect their lives and businesses not only during the years of construction but thereafter?

Yes / NO


  1. Do you consider it advisable to have Sellafield, Moorside (with 3 nuclear power plants) and a GDF in close proximity taking into account that a serious incident at just one of these facilities could force all of them to shut down?



  1. During the MRWS process great play was made about the job opportunities a GDF would bring to Cumbria. As a specialist workforce with experience in tunnelling etc will be required to carry out the construction work, do you agree that the lion’s share of the employment opportunities would not have gone to local Cumbrians?



  1. Are you concerned that only about 15% of Sellafield supply chain/decommissioning expenditure is spent within Cumbria?





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