Sat 12 May 2018 20.59 BST
Compensation offered to encourage local communities to allow test boreholes is described as ‘completely inadequate’
MPs from both major parties have attacked the government’s latest incentive to entice communities into volunteering to host Britain’s first deep underground store for nuclear waste as “completely inadequate”.
Ministers have offered up to £1m per community for areas that constructively engage in offering to take part in the scheme, and a further sum of up to £2.5m where deep borehole investigations take place.
The aim is to find a permanent underground geological disposal facility (GDF) that could store for thousands of years the waste from Britain’s nuclear energy and bomb-making programmes. The scheme could involve building stores under the seabed to house highly radioactive material. It is predicted that the UK is likely to have produced 4.9m tonnes of nuclear waste by 2125.
But critics say the inducements offered by the government – part of the consultations it launched this year – to ensure local cooperation are “simply not good enough”, and point to the example of France, which has a similar amount of nuclear waste. It offers around €30m (£26.5m) a year as local support for districts neighbouring the site at Bure, in north-east France, and has also offered €60m in community projects.
“The government’s offer in its consultation is simply not good enough. These communities are being asked to perform an important public service and should be properly recompensed,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary.
In 2012 the government’s attempt to encourage local areas to host nuclear waste facilities ended in failure when councils in Cumbria and Kent rejected proposals for underground stores to be built within their boundaries. These were the only communities to show significant interest at the time and remain the main candidates for sites now that the government has relaunched its nuclear store programme.
However, local campaigners fear that a waste site could affect tourism, on which Cumbria is heavily reliant. “For the sake of a few hundred jobs and a few million pounds, we risk thousands of jobs in the tourism sector, which contributes £2.7bn a year to Cumbria’s economy,” said Geoff Betsworth, chairman of the Cumbria Trust. “Even a 10% dent in tourism would cost £270m a year. The offer of £1m in community benefits, rising to £2.5m when boreholes begin, is absurdly low.”
The government is seeking to dispose of the UK’s nuclear waste underground because current storage facilities are both ineffective and expensive to maintain. A GDF would involve sealing the waste in rock for as long as it remains a hazard.
The plan was also criticised by the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who said the UK should stop making nuclear waste and stop building new reactors.
“We are still pouring untold billions of taxpayer money into propping up an industry that the free market would have killed off years ago,” he said. “In return, we will be compounding the catastrophe of a nuclear waste build-up, which we are no closer to solving than we were when the industry was born.”
Nina Schrank, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added: “The lack of seriousness with which the UK government treats nuclear legacy issues makes it predictable that their quest for a suitable site has been so unsuccessful that they are looking again at the Irish Sea, which Sellafield turned into one of the most radioactively contaminated seas in the world.”
A government spokesperson said: “The GDF will be a multibillion-pound project that can provide substantial benefits to host communities. This includes skilled employment for hundreds of people for decades to come, spin-off benefits such as infrastructure investment, as well as positive impacts on local service industries that support the facility and its workforce.”