Around fifty people attended the Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) meeting in Carlisle about geological screening on Tuesday evening. The meeting had a much higher turnout than similar meetings held elsewhere in the country, perhaps unsurprisingly since Cumbria County Council led by Eddie Martin, halted the previous process less than 3 years ago. At the time, the government promised that if Cumbria voted to halt the voluntary process, Cumbria would be out of the running for a GDF. That wasn’t true. The process is back and it has been redesigned to get around the democratic decision that stopped it. This time RWM have ensured that Cumbria County Council will no longer have a veto if one of the boroughs volunteers.
On the positive side, RWM have agreed that there will be a national geological survey, and a demonstration of the GB3D software which will be produced by this survey was given by Professor Yardley, RWM’s Chief Geologist. There have been three previous national surveys in the 1970s, 1980s, and in 2006 Nirex issued a joint statement with the British Geological Survey(BGS) saying that more than 30% of the UK landmass had potential for a geological disposal facility (GDF), and that a full report would be issued later in 2006. That never happened and neither of the earlier surveys were published. They have repeatedly refused to release them. One might conclude that the surveys did not produce the politically desired result so were suppressed. It seems likely that the 2006 survey, ruled Cumbria as unsuitable, just as Nirex had, so was quietly discarded.
The current survey is being undertaken by the BGS. However RWM have decided that rather than let the BGS complete the work, RWM will produce the interpretation of the maps themselves, allowing them to decide what is suitable. Cumbria Trust is concerned that RWM will allow its desire to return to Cumbria to override objective science. In our opinion the BGS should be given a set of agreed geological screening criteria, and left to produce the maps and narrative. The scope of the screening process also appears to have been deliberately limited to avoid ruling many areas out. The current process is open to being manipulated by RWM, just as the 2010 Cumbrian screening process was to bring the Solway Plain back into play, having been ruled out in the draft version. We hope that the Independent Review Panel, who have been appointed to oversee the process, will ensure that the output of the screening process is governed by science, and not by politics this time.
Several participants in the meeting raised the issue of the absence of trust after this has been severely damaged during previous processes. RWM were unable to answer what they consider to be a community which can volunteer or halt the process. Again this raises the suspicion that they will simply define it in a way which is least likely to be stoppable.
Cumbria Trust has yet to be convinced that the geological screening process as it is currently structured, will provide sufficient detail for communities to understand how suitable or otherwise their geology is likely to be. The areas with beds of simple unfaulted clay in low lying areas to the east and south of England may not realise that the international consensus favours their geology. Similarly Cumbrian boroughs may be misled into believing that their geology is as potentially suitable as other parts of the country, when hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent proving that not to be the case.