U.K. Nuclear Waste Vote Leaves Government Searching for Sites

A county council in northern England voted against hosting an underground nuclear waste disposal facility, leaving the U.K. government searching for new sites.

Cumbria County Council also agreed to seek new investment from the government to improve existing surface storage at Sellafield, the atomic fuel reprocessing site which is the biggest store of the U.K.’s historical waste, according to an e-mailed statement today.

The decision may hinder plans to build new nuclear plants in the U.K. by companies including Electricite de France SA, Hitachi Ltd., Iberdrola SA and GDF Suez SA. David King, the former government’s chief scientific adviser, has said the lack of a long term-disposal strategy may jeopardize plans to build new plants.

“I am confident that the program to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations,” Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said today in an e-mailed statement.

The U.K. has about 162,000 cubic meters of high-, intermediate- and low-level radioactive waste at 36 sites, according to the latest figures on the website of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. All of the high-level waste, the most radioactive form, is at Sellafield, as is two-thirds of the intermediate waste, according to the data.

Future waste from the dismantling of existing nuclear facilities in the U.K, which would also need to be stored, was estimated to total 4,550,000 cubic meters, according to the NDA.

The government is trying to pick a site for a nuclear repository on a voluntary basis that gets local agreement. It plans to have an underground storage facility by 2040.

It is “absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy,” Davey said. “The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long.”

Cumbria, along with the borough councils of Copeland and Allerdale, which both lie in that county, were the only candidates expressing interest in hosting a potential disposal site.

“There is sufficient doubt around the suitability of West Cumbria’s geology to put an end now to the uncertainty and worry this is causing for our communities,” Cumbria County Council Leader Eddie Martin said in the statement. “The Government’s efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest.”

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