Seven years after Cumbria County Council halted the last search process (MRWS) to bury the nation’s nuclear waste in West Cumbria, Copeland Borough Council has once again raised its hand to be included in the new search process. The developer, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) tell us that there has also been interest from other parts of the country, but past form would suggest that they tend to be over-optimistic and this is unlikely to develop into anything material. Copeland is likely to find itself as the only search area in England and Wales.
It will be a matter of concern to Cumbria Trust if, as expected, other areas of the country don’t volunteer. If RWM has no other options beyond Copeland on the table, the desire to make this succeed risks political expediency taking precedence over science once again. We know from the last process that a government with deep pockets is able to find biddable scientists to back their plans and to attempt to discredit those who disagree. Frequent consultations are held to give the impression of listening, but the outcome is predetermined long before the consultation opens.
On the positive side, we are reassured that Copeland has not repeated the key failure of the last process, by this time ruling out the Lake District from the very start. Cumbria Trust has repeatedly pressed for this. The other positive news is that the council recognise the significance of the 22km offshore strip along Copeland’s coast. During the last process this was limited to 5km offshore, and the expansion allows areas away from the mountains to be included, which are more likely to be suitable.
Cumbria Trust has reservations about this move, but the exclusion of the national park and inclusion of a much wider offshore strip gives us some encouragement that this won’t simply be a repeat of past failures. We will involve ourselves to ensure that local opinion and science are not ignored this time.