Thursday, November 29, 2001

Copeland Council leader Robin Simpson is not aware of any more Cumbrian sites being on a "secret" list of possible nuclear waste repository locations.

Longlands, at Gosforth, near Sellafield, which holds most of Britain's nuclear waste was the favoured location until Nirex lost its battle to build an underground rock laboratory needed to test the safety of the site.

Now a group of MPs on the House of Commons environment select committee is demanding to know whether any other possible Cumbrian sites are on the Nirex list drawn up in the 1980s.

Yesterday Robin Simpson, who was involved in many discussions with Nirex and BNFL over the Longlands plans, said: "I would be very surprised if there was another."

Asked whether he had heard any other location mentioned during the discussions, Coun Simpson declared: "Never."

Millions of pounds was spent preparing a case for an underground repository at Longlands, which was also BNFL's preferred option, but after losing out on the rock laboratory Nirex pulled out of the area.

The Government is currently carrying out fresh consultations which could lead to new proposals for burying nuclear waste underground following advice from RWMAC, its Radioactive Waste Management Committee, that this is still the best option.

Longlands has not been ruled out of consideration in the future but Robin Simpson called for Nirex to be scrapped.

"Nirex should be closed down. The whole organisation is tainted. They made such a mess of the last public consultation exercise in Cumbria, so much so that it could be years before anything else happens."

Ministers have been urged to set up a new waste management commission to draw up a list of up to 20 possible underground sites.

RWMAC has said that choosing any future site has to be seen as open and fair with possible community compensation.

Professor Charles Curtis, then acting chairman, said: "There is a need to avoid a repeat of the Nirex experience - not least because of the public expenditure involved for so little return."

Concerns about safety and amenity had to be properly addressed and "possibly that compensation commensurate with solving a national problem follows," Prof Curtis pointed out.

Any company charged with the design, construction and operation of an underground repository would first have to win the public's confidence.

Robin Simpson said: "Whether it is some new body succeeding Nirex or the nuclear industry itself we will have to wait and see. If plans do resurface, there has to be compensation. We have to deal with the nuclear industry at Sellafield for 50 years and we have had precious little financial help from the government - hardly a halfpenny."

Most of the UK's radioactive waste is generated at Sellafield and stored in a series of on-surface plants. Simpson thought moving it to dispose of in another area would be a problem.

n Only 30 per cent of the country is said to be geologically suitable for an underground repository.

n Copeland MP, Jack Cunningham, said: "I have never heard it suggested that any other Cumbrian location has been earmarked for a nuclear waste repository. I am in close touch with ministers about all sorts of nuclear issues and it has not even been talked about."