Science & Environment

Local politicians to lose nuclear waste site veto right

nuclear Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A temporary storage site for high level waste at Sellafield in Cumbria

The UK government wants to scrap the formal community veto which allows local politicians to block a future £12bn nuclear waste repository.

It follows the decision by Cumbria County Council to reject a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) last year.

The facility would hold enough radioactive waste to fill six Albert Halls.

This would expand to more than seven in the event of a new generation of new nuclear power stations.

The GDF is to be constructed in rocks deep below ground and will keep the deadly material away from all living things for hundreds of thousands of years.

The old policy required a strategic authority such as a county council as well as the local council to approve a project.

The new policy simply requires what officials called a positive "test of community support" for the project to go ahead.

None of the changes apply to Scotland which has a separate nuclear waste policy and wants to store it at or near the surface.

Paid to engage

The government has refused the calls from some critics of the scheme for the right to withdraw to be written into legislation.

Instead communities will be paid to engage. Councils joining the site investigation process will receive £1m per year for up to five years in compensation to explore the idea further, rising to £2.5m per year as the design and planning phase begins, then rising substantially when building starts.

In a statement, timed to the publication of a government White Paper, Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary said: "Today we're setting out our plan to find a suitable site, based on a fundamental principle of listening to people.

"The local community which hosts a facility will benefit from jobs for hundreds of people over many decades," he said.

They would also receive "direct investment for the benefit of the community".

But unveiling the long awaited proposal, Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) officials confirmed that they were ending the right of politicians to veto a nuclear waste dump in their area.

"All levels of local government will have to have a voice but we are keen that no one individual level will have an absolute veto," a DECC spokesman said.

Officials stressed that the principle of "voluntarism" was still intact and there would have to be a "positive test of community support" before any repository could be built.

"We're only going to build a GDF if the community concerned is happy," she said.

The construction of the GDF would guarantee 500 jobs for decades to come and around 1,000 jobs during the construction phase but it may not be ready until 2050 at the earliest.

DECC have announced they are to begin "geological screening" of the country to find rocks that might hold nuclear waste safely for tens of thousands of years.

Bruce McKirdy MD of Radioactive Waste Management Ltd - the organisation tasked with delivering the repository - said it would be "decades" before the first waste was placed in the facility.

"There is no rush to get this facility, the waste that exists can be stored safely in surface stores," he said.

These stores, he said, had a design lifetime of 50-100 years.

"It's a long term project but one that we need to press on with because the problem won't go away, we need a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of years and it will take decades to implement that solution."

He said they were not "kicking it down the road", they were taking it "very seriously".

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