Friday, December 27, 2001

A two lane motorway into West Cumbria or dramatically slashed council taxes and business rates were among the possible "compensation" ideas floated by participants at a Westlake Think Tank meeting into the return of a Nirex underground nuclear dump to the area.

The government has re-activated interest in solving the problems of Britain's growing stockpile of nuclear waste, most of which is currently at Sellafield. And the meeting last Friday at Westlakes heard from Coun Tom Clare that central government had set a deadline of March 12 next year for responses to the latest re-think.

Participants were left in no doubt that there is discussion going on towards a possible pay-off to Cumbria, if it is selected as the site for Britain's nuclear waste dump. John Hetherington, County Environmental Planning Officer said: "Output from recent dialogue is that local compensation for blight and benefits in exchange for hosting a repository.''

During an interval at the meeting The Whitehaven News asked particpants for their views on what Cumbria should expect in return for its possible selection for a dump. Copeland councillor Janet Johnston (Lab) said: "I would be looking for an improved attitude from central government....possibly we could suggest business rates and council taxes be dramatically slashed.''

Another senior county councillor, who did not wish to be named said: "All the rock from an underground dump should be enough to create a two-lane link to the M6.''

Cumbria county council leader Rex Toft (Con) said: "If an area has to have an underground repository then that area has to be compensated. Road improvements spring to mind, but the outcome would have to be in billions of pounds.''

But Coun Bryan Dixon (Lab) said: "You can't put a price on people's health...I do not like any talk of a fast track decision.''

Coun Henry Wormstrup (Lab) pointed out to the meeting: "It is international radioactive waste down there...not just ours.''

But there was widespread acceptance in the gathering of councillors and nuclear experts that the Sellafield area was in the line for a new nuclear dump.

County Coun Alan Clarke (Lab) said: "I am astonished to see Nirex are considering Cumbria again. I would draw attention to the fact that no other area in the country is holding a meeting like this.''

Dr Peter Manning for BNFL said the company had only made 10% of its stockpile of intermediate level waste into a state ready for long term storage.

Councillor Tom Clare who chaired the meeting and is Chairman of the Economic Forum told the meeting: "We want to be a volunteer community rather than a chosen one.''

Gilbert Finlinson made a surprise appearance at the meeting and urged the experts to use his Egremont Iron Ore Mine as a future repository for nuclear waste.

Nirex spokesman Chris Murray said he knew of six other possible repository locations in the UK, but he was not allowed to publicise these by the government.