On 30 January, Cumbria county council voted against allowing further surveys to see if an underground dump for spent nuclear fuel can be safely built in its area.
According to the Financial Times, “county councillors, who face elections in May, cited public opposition as the reason for their vote to withdraw. Tens of thousands have campaigned against hosting the dump, saying it would ruin the Lake District’s tourism industry and threaten health”.
In fact the vote was a triumph for the NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) principle, similar to the frequent blocking of wind turbines by local authorities.
Even if you reject nuclear power out of hand — which I don’t — the nuclear waste already exists. No amount of political posturing will make it disappear. It has to be stored safely somewhere.
The county council vote was not a reasonable objection to a rushed move to construct an underground dump without proper research into its long-term security, but a ban on further investigation.
One deep underground dump is already in operation in Eddy County, New Mexico, USA, but takes only USA military nuclear waste.
Other deep dumps are due to start construction soon at Östhammar, Sweden, and Olkiluoto, Finland. They are designed to be safe for tens of thousands of years at a minimum.
While nuclear waste unfortunately exists and has to be stored somewhere, I think Martin downplays some of the problems with the plan to bury it in a bunker under the Lake District, not least geological concerns expressed by experts.
As with nuclear power stations, its proponents' claims that everything will be perfectly safe are undermined by the siting of facilities on the remote coastline of Cumberland or Northern Scotland where it doesn't matter much if/when there's an accident. If these sites will "be safe for tens of thousands of years at a minimum", presumably Martin would have no objection to a nuclear waste storage bunker being built under London.
This article outlines some of the potential problems with the Cumbrian site. Water contamination would affect not just the surrounding area but Manchester as well which is supplied by the Lake District.
Nuclear waste has obviously got to be stored safely somewhere. I suppose a large, uninhabited, geologically stable area would be the best option. I don't know if the facilities in New Mexico, Sweden and Finland fit the bill but it's pretty clear the proposed site in the Lake District doesn't.