The Disposal of Nuclear Waste in the UK: the policy of voluntarism

Romney Marsh in Kent, one of England’s most peaceful areas and most wildlife-rich wetlands, has been suggested as a site for Britain’s future nuclear waste dump.  Ten thousand letters have been sent to residents of the area by the local district council, Folkestone-based Shepway, canvassing their views about siting the proposed Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility in the geological strata deep beneath the marsh.  The council, which does not yet have a formal position on the idea, thinks that hosting the dump could be a way of replacing up to 1,000 jobs likely to be lost from the closure of the two local nuclear power stations, Dungeness A and B, and wants to know what local people think.

After decades of uncertainty about what to do with Britain’s 60-year legacy of dangerous radioactive waste – which is mainly spent fuel from atomic power stations, scattered across the country at numerous sites – the Government decided in 2006 that it would all be brought together and held in a “geological disposal facility” – a repository deep underground.

Finding a site acceptable to local people was always going to be the major difficulty, and in a White Paper published in 2008 the Government decided on an approach of “voluntarism” – inviting all local authorities to express an interest themselves in hosting the dump. It was understood that the Government would provide substantial economic benefits in return.  So far, only three local authorities have expressed interest, all of them in the area of the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria – Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils, and Cumbria County Council.

The fact that solidly-Tory Shepway – Tory majority, 44 out of 46 council seats, with two independents – is now showing stirrings of interest is something of a breakthrough, and was specifically welcomed yesterday by the Energy Minister, Charles Hendry. “This is potentially a multi-billion pound development that could guarantee high quality employment and the retention of nuclear industry skills in the area for many decades,” he said.  However, not all local people are so keen. “This is an entirely ludicrous proposal,” said retired businessman Peter Morris, who lives on the edge of the marsh.  “This is an area of rich agricultural land with diverse protected habitats and unique species. It is simply the wrong place to store nuclear waste. It would mean bringing the waste from right across Britain, probably through London.”  He added: “Most of Romney Marsh is either at sea level or below sea level. With global warming it seems likely it would be extremely vulnerable to coastal flooding and I’m not aware of any studies which have shown otherwise.”   In a statement yesterday, Shepway said that a waste store “would place nuclear waste in secure containers deep underground in vaults and tunnels. At ground level there would be buildings housing research, office, transport and other facilities.”

Shepway councillor David Godfrey, who was raised on Romney Marsh and whose first job was surveying the Dungeness A Construction, said. “The council does not have a formal view about whether the Marsh should host a Nuclear Research and Disposal Facility. Our only view is that local people should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves if it is worth discussing the idea further. If the people of the Marsh do not support an Expression of Interest, things will end there.”  He added: “If the community does support an Expression of Interest, [the Department of energy and Climate Change] will commission experts to see whether the geology accessible from the Marsh is potentially suitable.

Michael McCarthy, Romney Marsh set to become nuclear dump, the Independent, May 17, 2012

Nuclear Waste and Scotland

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