After repeated attempts to find a site to bury the UK’s nuclear waste, the last of which ended in 2013 when Cumbria County Council voted to halt the process, the Government are about to restart the search process. Ahead of this launch, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have released a consultation document, Working With Communities. Cumbria Trust has examined the proposal in detail and we have some very serious concerns about this consultation and its implications for areas which volunteer.
BEIS are proposing to open the search process to allow anyone to volunteer, even a member of the public, a farmer or a business. They can do this behind closed doors, with no requirement to make public their expression of interest during the first few months. A process being presented as ‘open and transparent’ appears to fall a long way short.
In stark contrast to the flexible approach by which areas can enter the process, if they later wish to withdraw, they are obliged to follow a much more complex and convoluted procedure in order to be allowed to leave.
However the most alarming aspect of the proposal is that the first and only test of public support does not happen until some 20 years after the process starts. During this time the community will have to endure a programme of borehole drilling and other intrusive investigations lasting a decade or more. The last time this borehole programme happened was in the 1990s with Nirex, and that led Jamie Reed, MP at the time and prominent nuclear advocate, to declare in 2006
“The experience of Nirex endured by my community in the mid-1990s was so wretched that I was minded to entitle this debate fear and loathing”.
“As long as I have anything to do with it Nirex will never dig another sod of turf in West Cumbria”.
What BEIS are proposing will again potentially expose a community to this experience, and with no mechanism for the public to halt the process. Instead any right of withdrawal rests with a defined Community Partnership. Without regular tests of public support, the Community Partnership appears not to be answerable to the public.
For all the talk of an ‘open and transparent’ process, what BEIS are actually proposing is nothing of the sort, and seems likely to create an early breakdown of public trust. Cumbria Trust has responded to the consultation and would urge our members to read this and consider making their own submissions. The deadline is 19th April and we hope to publish some guidance notes to assist with this within the next few days.
Download the Cumbria Trust response here