Allow nuclear waste disposal under national parks, say MPs

Highly radioactive nuclear waste could be permanently buried under national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), under government plans backed by a committee of MPs.

Deep geological burial is seen as the only permanent solution for nuclear waste that will remain radioactive for many thousands of years and is currently stored at surface sites across the UK. Ministers’ attempts to choose a site in Cumbria for the £12bn facility were foiled in 2013 when the county council rejected the proposal.

New plans by ministers were published in January and have now been backed by the business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) select committee of MPs, who said the safest site should be chosen, regardless of location.

“We decided against adding an exclusionary criterion for national parks and AONBs as in our view it is right for safety matters to prevail over environmental concerns in this case,” said the committee, chaired by Labour’s Rachel Reeves.

However, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “It’s outrageous to think of companies burying nuclear waste and fracking for gas in some of the most beautiful places in the country. Tussles over which communities have to put up with this toxic material bring us all to shame.” Fracking under national parks was also approved by the UK government in 2015.

The BEIS committee did criticise ministers for being unclear about how much nuclear waste would be produced by plans for new reactors, including at Hinkley Point in Somerset. It also said ministers made a “spurious” link between the geological disposal facility (GDF) and the government’s industrial strategy as the plans do not contain enough requirements to train and use local people.

Fifty years of nuclear power in the UK has generated 750,000 cubic metres of waste but the nation has still not developed a permanent disposal solution. Following the 2013 failure, ministers have proposed up to £2.5m a year for communities that consider hosting a GDF, funding dismissed as bribes by opponents.

The facility would be 200 to 1,000 metres below the surface. The BEIS MPs said: “We support the government’s view that it is conceivable for a GDF to be designed in a way that would be acceptable to communities, preserve the socioeconomic benefits that national parks and AONBs currently bring them and avoid any intrusive surface facility in conservation areas.”

The energy minister Richard Harrington, giving evidence to the committee on 10 July, said: “I am not saying we should have them on national parks, but it would be very wrong to exclude them at the moment.”

He said the government wanted to “ensure that the siting process has sufficient flexibility to identify the safest location for a GDF over the lifetime of the facility”. Harrington has said construction of the GDF would create 1,000 jobs and running it would create 600 more.

Ruth Bradshaw at the Campaign for National Parks said: “Our national parks are precious national assets with, at least theoretically, the highest level of protection through the planning system. The proposed nuclear storage facility is completely contrary to the purposes of national parks.”

Emma Marrington at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “Where such major development takes place we destroy beautiful landscapes and ruin our opportunity to pass on a beautiful piece of countryside to the next generation.”

“Radioactive byproducts are yet another reason the government must stop building dirty, dangerous and expensive nuclear power stations,” said Lucas. “The future is in clean, renewable energy like wind and solar.”

Greenpeace UK’s Kate Blagojevic said: “It’s mystifying why the UK, alone among major western nations, insists on propping up this obsolete 20th-century technology.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, the UK spent £400m examining a proposed GDF site near Sellafield that was eventually abandoned due to the highly complex and fractured nature of the geology.

Damian Carrington

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    It is quite amazing that so much ignorance concerning radioactive should still be so unashamedly displayed.

    "many thousands of years"; no, a few hundred and HLW is gone, but don’t tell Ms Lucas, Bradshaw, Marrington, and Blagojevic. "obsolete 20th-century technology", this must be a reference to windmills.

    Yet another illustration of the ravings of those bereft, apparently of both knowledge and its basic science.

    Richard Phillips

  2. Richard Young says:

    Get rid of the nuclear fission, out of date nonsense and this wont be necessary, renewables can, and will, provide all the power we need, when we need it. Meanwhile store the waste that this silly industry has produced in caverns deep under the Houses of Parliament, they introduced it, they should live with the result – and the half life is indeed thousands of years with certain of these obsolete fission materials.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie