The three Cumbrian councils involved in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process are asking the Government for further information and clarity before making a decision on whether take part in a search to see if there is a suitable site in the Allerdale or Copeland areas for a repository for the country's higher activity radioactive waste.
Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council have opted to defer the decision about whether or not to allow detailed studies and investigations to take place until January 2013. During this time they will be seeking clarification from the Department for Energy and Climate Change on a number of issues.
Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said: "This is not a decision which can be taken lightly and members don't yet feel we're in a position where we have all the information needed to make a decision on whether to continue to engage in the MRWS process. The Government has always made it clear that if necessary, the process can be 'paused' while we seek clarification on unresolved issues. We're at that stage now and the next three months will involve all three councils working closely with the Government to get to a position where a decision can be made."
Cllr Elaine Woodburn, the Leader of Copeland Borough Council, said: "We already have a considerable amount of information from the work of the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership, although there are many questions that could only be answered if further studies and investigations are carried out as part of the siting process. However, in the meantime we will be working with the county council and Allerdale over the next few months to get further clarification from Government on some of the points in the Partnership's report."
Cllr Alan Smith, the Leader of Allerdale Borough Council, said: "The West Cumbria MRWS Partnership spent a lot of time looking at these issues and engaging with local people. The councils need to take full account of the Partnership's report and ensure they have the information they need before making a decision."
The West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership, which included the councils and other organisations in Cumbria, completed its final report in July 2012 setting out its opinions and advice on the issues that would be involved in taking part in the search for a site. However, the Partnership did not make a recommendation about whether the councils should take part in that process.
The report said 'a lack of trust appears to us to be at the root of many of the key concerns raised by the public and stakeholders'. The councils have therefore decided to seek further information and clarification from the Government on a number of issues they believe are key to the issue of trust.
One of these issues is the right of withdrawal. The Government says the Councils would still be able to withdraw from the process up until the point when work could start on building a repository. However, the Councils want to get a better understanding of the detail and timescale involved in meeting the Government's commitment to make this right of withdrawal legally binding.
Some people have expressed concerns that the Government might not deliver on its promise to provide a package of community benefits to any area where a repository is built. The Councils therefore want to get further clarification from the Government about the basis on which a community benefits package would be negotiated.
One of the biggest concerns for many residents of Cumbria has been whether the geology of the area is suitable for a repository. Although a few geologists believe there is already enough evidence to show that West Cumbria's geology is unsuitable, most of the experts agree that there is not enough definitive information available at this time.
However, the process to secure more detailed information about the geology of the area will involve a series of studies and investigations and will therefore take a substantial period of time. This would mean that the uncertainty about whether there is anywhere with suitable geology will continue for a number of years.
The Councils therefore believe that alternative radioactive waste management solutions should be considered in parallel with the MRWS programme in case a suitable site is not identified, either because the geology is not suitable or for other reasons.
The Councils also intend to use the extra time to clarify other issues such as ensuring that there would be adequate Government funding for community representatives to independently scrutinise the studies and investigations which would be carried out and to ensure that the Cumbria brand is protected.
The Councils believe these questions are central to the issue of trust which was flagged up in the Partnership's report.
Once the Councils have discussed these issues with the Government they will consider the responses they have got alongside the Partnership's Final Report, the results of the consultation carried out by the Government and the opinion survey conducted by Ipsos MORI. They then expect to make decision about whether to take part in the search for a possible repository site in January 2013.
The West Cumbria MRWS Partnership spent more than three years considering reports, hearing from experts, commissioning independent research and inviting reviews by independent experts. It also carried out an extensive communications and engagement programme.
For further information on the MRWS process in West Cumbria visit www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk.
For further information contact Gareth Cosslett on 01228 226337.
For general enquiries to Cumbria County Council's communications team contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01228 226338/ 221008/ 226601.