The Government will have to look for another site to bury nuclear waste after a council in the Lake District rejected any plans to create one in its area.
Members of Cumbria County Council yesterday voted by 7-3 against studying the possibility of having the £12bn facility in the region.
Ministers said the decision was disappointing, while unions representing nuclear workers described the move as “short-sighted.”
Huge cheers came from environmental campaigners outside the council chamber in Carlisle when the decision was announced, and Greenpeace said it was now clear that “dumping” waste in uncertain geology near one of the country’s most pristine national parks was not a solution.
The county council vote over-rides decisions on the site taken by nearby borough authorities.
Earlier, leaders of Copeland borough council voted 6-1 in favour of moving to the next stage in the search for a site to bury radioactive waste.
However members of Cumbria’s cabinet disagreed. They urged the Government to invest in improvements to the existing surface storage facilities at the Sellafield site, so that there was a more “robust” surface storage arrangement in the decades to come while a permanent solution for the country’s higher-activity radioactive waste was found.
The decision effectively ends the county council’s four-year formal involvement in the managing radioactive waste safely (MRWS) process, and puts an end to the “doubts and concerns” of many local people, said the authority.
Cabinet members made it clear at the meeting that it had been a highly contentious issue which had polarised opinions.
Council leader Eddie Martin (Conservative) said he and his colleagues believed sufficient doubt surrounds the suitability of West Cumbria’s geology to justify ending the uncertainty and worry for nearby communities.
“Cumbria is not the best place geologically in the UK – the Government’s efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest,” he said.
“While Sellafield and the Lake District have co-existed side by side successfully for decades, we fear that if the area becomes known in the national conscience as the place where nuclear waste is stored underground, the Lake District’s reputation may not be so resilient.”