Council leaders offer Lake District as nuclear dump

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Labour leadership team at Cumbria county council has agreed to make an "expression of interest" that would pinpoint an area around the Lake District as the most likely place for Britain's first high-level nuclear waste dump.

The controversial move was taken on a vote of the council's inner cabinet amid allegations democracy was being stifled and despite a warning from a top scientist that new studies showed a link between atomic sites and incidents of cancer.

Tim Knowles, the council cabinet member responsible for nuclear issues, insisted the decision did not involve "commitments" but merely brought the local authority to the negotiating table. "We're a long way from deciding whether Cumbria is the right place to store nuclear waste deep underground and there's a huge amount of detail required on what community support packages are acceptable, long-term environmental safety and potential site locations," he said.

The expression of interest follows a government white paper, which invited local authorities to volunteer to host the burial of nuclear waste in return for investment in roads, schools and other public services. Without a new high-level waste dump the government's plan for new atomic power stations would be hard to achieve.

Stan Collins, a county councillor with the Liberal Democrats, said last night that he was extremely concerned the cabinet had taken such an important decision, affecting so many people, without the involvement of other councillors.

"It was wrong and totally undemocratic not to take this decision in full council. We have had a 60-year uncontrolled experiment with nuclear and it is time we moved on. A waste repository is a nonsense in this area. Previous reports into the geology showed the rocks were fractured and totally unsuitable for burial," he added.

Marianne Bennett, from Friends of the Earth, was "terrified" by the cabinet's decision, especially since it was given explicit warnings about the health implications of a dump. "This just reminds me of asbestos except on a much larger scale."

The health warning was delivered to the cabinet meeting by Dr Ian Fairlie, an independent radiation consultant who has worked for the British government and environmental groups.

The government is unlikely to take a final decision on a high-level waste repository until 2025.

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