Not in our backyard?

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.

Comments

Nimbyism?

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.

Not in anybody's backyard

I may be wrong Martin, but it seems like you haven't done much research on this subject, so I am surprised that you feel able to pass such damning judgement on people in Cumbria who have resisted this bogus project. The no vote was celebrated as an unexpected victory by the anti-nuclear movement, including those of us resisting the proposed Hinkley C new nuclear development, and we feel a great bond of solidarity with our comrades in Cumbria who helped local councillors resist considerable pressure in a way that our own county council in Somerset has failed to do.

The idea of a "Geological Disposal Facility" (GDF) to provide a long-term storage solution for Britain's radioactive waste has been around for 40 years. Only a handful of areas in the UK have been located which could theoretically be geologically stable enough to hold the waste safely for thousands of years. Cumbria is not one of them. It was already roundly dismissed by geologists in the 1980s. Unlike you , people in Cumbira know this. They also know that the reason they were singled out for this particular legacy is that most of the old radioactive waste has already been dumped at Sellafield, and it was the state's gamble that Cumbrian people would be the least likely to resist, especially since so many cumbrian workers depend on the nuclear waste industry for jobs. The British state changed tack since the last attempt at a Cumbrian GDF by announcing a policy of "voluntarism". Since they have already been shat on so royally, maybe, with some extra cash inducements, they'll accept being shat on some more. It's no accident therefore that unions representing nuclear waste workers in West Cumbria were in favour of this development, which at least seemed to offer a promise of finally cleaning up the hellish mess which is the current above ground storage situation in West Cumbria.

But an inappropriate site is worse than useless, although I'm afraid that that would not prevent the state from digging it anyway, since lack of care for future generations is, now as ever, the hallmark of nuclear policy in the uk. The Cumbrian councillors were concerned that there was no actual guarantee that they would be able to escape from the process once they had allowed highly intrusive "exploratory work" to begin.

The government on the other hand urgently needed to be able to say that a GDF was underway, because without it their already shaky "nuclear renaissance" is fatally flawed. Currently, EDF's plan for Hinkley C and Sizewell B for instance is that the spent fuel rods will end up in a GDF "when one becomes available" about 200 years hence. Otherwise they will simply have to remain above ground on site for thousands of years. During that time, each generation will have to maintain and monitor the storage safely. This would not have been acceptable to the planning inspectorate, so the promise of the GDF has had to be invoked before one had even been located, let alone dug.

The push for a voluntary GDF in the one place that might accept it, regardless of it's proven geological instability, is simple political expediency, with the timing dictated by the nuclear new build agenda. In March the Secretary of State will announce planning permission for EDF's Hinkley C plant, following the entirely predictable recommendation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was an elaborate and expensive sham, set up to replace the more democratic public enquiry process of old. The failure of cumbria to fall for this ruse has further shaken the nuclear house of cards. EDF is finding it hard to locate enough investment to go ahead with their plans. Centrica have pulled out. EDF want the tories to both fix the price high in advance for their future nuclear electricity (the so-called "strike price"), and to provide billions in underwriting for construction - a public subsidy by any other name. This is the only way to make nuclear "profitable". Otherwise they are threatening to walk away.

Make of all this what you will, but there is as yet no convincing democratically accepted solution to the radioactive waste problem, and marxists don't need to pretend that there is. The fact that Finland is blessed with better geology for deep storage doesn't alter the questions that they are still struggling to resolve. Many authorities believe that above ground retrievable storage is actually the safer option.

We could do with a workers government that would genuinely tackle this problem of "legacy waste" in the interest of all - and prevent the creation of any more. In the meantime, the people of Cumbria and Lancashire actually do live with this legacy in their backyard already. You do not. It is ill-advised of you to accuse them of "the NIMBY principle" (as if that explained anything at all) just because they don't want to see the waste pollution of western cumbria extending into the underground toxification of the most treasured natural resource of this island, the cumbrian mountains. Nuclear waste is a toxic legacy of imperialist war and unaccountable capitalism. It must be dealt of, but not by surreptitiously dumping it in anybody's backyard.

water supply

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.