The risks of allowing landowners to volunteer their land for nuclear waste disposal:

In South Australia, the Federal Government has chosen a site on the Eyre Peninsula for permanent disposal of low-level nuclear waste and as a temporary store for intermediate-level waste.  This site has been chosen after being volunteered by a landowner in return for a substantial payment.  The test of community support appears to be so localised that it ignores the opinion of many of those who will suffer blight should the project go ahead.

Cumbria Trust notes the parallels with the current search process for a geological disposal facility (GDF) site for the UK’s nuclear waste, although in the UK’s case, the potential site is several orders of magnitude larger and will include permanent disposal of  high-level nuclear waste.  The latest UK process allows landowners to volunteer their land and be paid for it.  The test of community support has yet to be defined, but from past experience we would expect the test to be manipulated to give it the highest chance of succeeding in any given situation.

During the UK’s previous search process, called Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS), a major test for community consent was distorted by allowing a single brown envelope full of responses to just Q8 ‘Overall participation’ to change the result entirely.  Note that every other measure is against, but the late acceptance of this brown envelope changed the result to suggest that there was community support.  The bar chart below was produced by Professor Stuart Haszeldine:



A further complexity in the UK is that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) owns a significant amount of land around Sellafield, including Longlands Farm adjacent to Gosforth, which was investigated and rejected as a GDF site by Nirex in the 1990s.  It isn’t clear whether the NDA would be able to volunteer its own land to itself and use this route to circumvent the voluntarism process.

The current search process has been delayed by a great deal of government bandwidth being consumed by Brexit over the last few years, and more recently by the need to deal with Covid-19.  While Cumbria Trust expects little progress to be made on the GDF issue this year, we must remain alert to the risks of landowners being allowed to volunteer for their own personal gain.

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