Government sets out local funding and referendum measures to boost search for nuclear waste site

Communities interested in hosting a nuclear waste disposal facility would be provided with up to £2.5m per year in 'community investment funding', would have a right to withdraw from the process prior to any approval, and could be given a final vote on any proposal via a local referendum, a consultation has said.

Nuclear: government cities 'ethical' case for waste disposal sites
Nuclear: government cities 'ethical' case for waste disposal sites

The government has today re-launched its search for a possible site for a nuclear waste storage facility.

Previous efforts were abandoned in 2013 after Cumbria County Council's cabinet voted against progressing with plans to allow nuclear waste to be buried deep beneath the Cumbrian countryside.

To support its search, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has published a consultation which sets out "how the project developer will engage with people in areas that may be interested in hosting a disposal facility to seek their views".

The document says that its proposals "relate to how communities should be engaged, how early community investment could be provided to communities that participate in the siting process, how a right of withdrawal could operate throughout the siting process, and how a test of public support could be carried out before construction and operation of a geological disposal facility."

The document says that interested communities could receive up to £1 million per year in the early part of the geological disposal facility siting process, rising to up to £2.5 million per community, per year "for communities that progress to deep investigative boreholes that are needed to assess the potential suitability of sites".

Communities would also have a right of withdrawal "at any time in the siting process up until the test of public support, which identifies whether there is community support to proceed".

The consultation says that this test "could be carried out using a range of methods, including a local referendum, a formal consultation or statistically representative polling".

The planning process for any future nuclear waste storage site would be guided by the government’s Draft National Policy Statement For Geological Disposal Infrastructure, which was also published for consultation today.

Once adopted, the NPS would be used as the primary basis for the examination by the Planning Inspectorate, and for decisions by the secretary of state, in considering development consent applications for geological disposal infrastructure that fall within the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects.

The document says that there is "a technical, ethical and legal need for the safe and secure management of the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste in the long term".

"As one of the generations that has benefitted from medical treatments, research, electricity and defence activities that have all produced radioactive waste, the UK government believes it is the responsibility of this generation to dispose of this waste", it says.

The draft NPS says that the key assessment principles for such schemes would relate to the "design, environmental, health, safety and security aspects of the development".

"Good design should be integral to any proposal, taking into account matters such as visual appearance, functionality, fitness for purpose, sustainability and cost, along with the demonstration of how an attractive, durable and adaptable scheme has evolved", the document says.

Energy minister Richard Harrington said: "We owe it to future generations to take action now to find a suitable permanent site for the safe disposal of our radioactive waste. And it is right that local communities have a say. Planning consent will only be given to sites which have local support.

"As the government set out in our Industrial Strategy, the nuclear sector has a key role to play in increasing productivity and driving clean growth. Nuclear is a vital part of our energy mix, providing low carbon power now and into the future."

The consultations run until 19 April. 

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