A £12 billion underground nuclear waste site will no longer be built in Cumbria after the local council voted against the plan.
Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet today rejected moving to the next stage the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, which is seeking to find a site of a deep geological repository for higher activity radioactive waste.
Earlier, leaders of Copeland Borough Councill voted 6-1 in favour of moving to the next stage in the search for a site to bury radioactive waste but the county council vote overrides decisions on the waste site taken by borough authorities in the area. Allerdale borough council is due to consider the subject later today.
More than 45,000 people had signed a petition against a nuclear waste site in the Lake District and there were huge cheers from environmental campaigners outside the council chamber in Carlisle when the decision was announced, but Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was disappointed.
He said: "We respect the decision made today by Cumbria councillors. They have invested a great deal of time in this project and have provided valuable lessons on how to take forward this process in future.
"While their decision to withdraw is disappointing, Cumbria will continue to play a central role in the energy and nuclear power sectors.”
Most of the UKs radioactive waste is currently stored above ground at Sellafield nuclear power plant which is also in Cumbria.
While plans were yet to be drawn up, any underground storage facility would be between 6sq km and 23sq km – up to four times the size of Sellafield, though the above ground footprint would be about 1sq km.
The underground vaults would be at a depth of between 200m and 1,000m and the facility would have a 100-year lifetime.
Mr Davey said: "We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. I am confident that the programme 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.
"It is however absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long grass for far too long.
"We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste. We also remain committed to the principles of voluntarism and a community-led approach.
"The fact that Copeland voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a geological disposal facility demonstrates that communities recognise the benefits associated with hosting such a facility.
"For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring.
"We will now embark on a renewed drive to ensure that the case for hosting a GDF is drawn to the attention of other communities."
But Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen said the decision represents yet another major blow for the Government's nuclear power drive.
She said: "Even the Prime Minister admits we need a plan to store waste before we can build a single new plant. This decision shows that dumping waste in uncertain geology near one of the country's most pristine national parks is not a solution.
"Ministers must now re-consider their nuclear ambitions and turn their attention instead to clean, sustainable and renewable energy."
As well as rejecting the plans, the 10 members of the county council’s Cabinet also agreed urged the Government to invest in improvements to the existing surface storage facilities at Sellafield.
The decision effectively ends the county council's four-year formal involvement in the MRWS process.
Council leader Eddie Martin (Conservative) said: "Cabinet believes 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 is not the best place geologically in the UK - the Government's efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest. Members have remained concerned throughout on the issue of the legal right of withdrawal if we proceed to the next stage.
“Despite assurances from Government that they intend to introduce this as primary legislation, we do believe that this could have been done far sooner to ease our concerns.
“The fact remains the right of withdrawal is not yet enshrined in statute and we could not take the risk of saying yes today without this being absolutely nailed down.
"Cumbria has a unique and world-renowned landscape which needs to be cherished and protected. While Sellafield and the Lake District have co-existed side by side successfully for decades, we fear that if the area becomes known in the national conscience as the place where nuclear waste is stored underground, the Lake District's reputation may not be so resilient."