Cumbria's nuclear decision has 100,000 year legacy

Image caption Chris Jackson on top of high level nuclear waste at Sellafield

There is something rather strange about standing right on top of one of the most toxic substances known to man.

Beneath each of those yellow circles is a container of vitrified high level nuclear waste.

It's the end product of Britain's nuclear programme and will remain radioactive for the next 100,000 years.

On the one hand it's deadly, on the other it can be contained and managed so that humans can be within close proximity.

Where it is right now is just a temporary fix.

It's housed above ground at Sellafield in Cumbria, but what the government would really like to do bury it deep underground - forever.

It has asked councils across the UK to volunteer to become the home of the subterranean repository.

Of the few that initially put themselves forward only Cumbria is still happy to be considered.

Crunch decision

On Wednesday three councils; Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria County, will make their minds up whether to go to the next stage - geological investigations to see if the potential sites are indeed suitable.

The councillors were due to come to a decision last year but asked for a delay - this week is crunch time for Cumbria's nuclear waste dump vote.

Some think a "yes" is a forgone conclusion given how vital the nuclear industry is to Cumbria's economy.

The government has reassured the councils that saying 'yes' now still leaves the door open for them to pull out in the future.

Nevertheless some fear that once this next stage is approved it would start a ball rolling whose momentum could not be stopped.

Either one or both of the district councils saying 'yes' is not enough, the county has to agree as well.

It's hard to imagine any local representative on any council having to take a more important decision.

The potential consequences will be felt for the following 100,000 years.

In tonight's Inside Out programme we've been looking at those who'll have to bear the responsibility of making that call and the pressures they're under.

Last year I travelled to Finland to see what an underground store might look like as they have already built their underground test facility. I wrote about it in an earlier blog.

Whatever sleepless nights the councillors may have had, it may yet be nature that decides the final outcome.

If the Cumbrian rock isn't up to scratch the government will have to look elsewhere.

With no other volunteers on the cards it's hard to see what plan B might be.

Inside Out can be seen at 19:30 GMT on BBC One on Monday, 28 January, 2013

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