Nuclear dump inquiry set for long run

Nirex repository: Locals are angry that hearing may last months, but are remain divided over pounds 2bn scheme
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The frustration of a Cumbrian housewife trying to cross-examine the company that wants to dump radioactive nuclear waste a kilometre beneath her home welled up yesterday as the public inquiry into UK Nirex's plan for a rock laboratory settled in for a long haul.

Ann Lowry, 57, whose house is over the road from the Longlands Farm site Nirex hopes will become its pounds 2bn deep repository wanted to question one of the company's specialist witnesses on the extra traffic which will be caused by the scheme.

But Chris McDonald, the planning inspector chairing the inquiry, explained that traffic flows were not part of the brief of Arthur Smith, the mining engineer giving evidence for Nirex. The company has a long list of witnesses whose evidence will take several weeks.

But Mrs Lowry, like most local representatives, cannot afford so much time to attend the inquiry at Cleator Moor Civic Hall.

"I'm pretty angry," Mrs Lowry said. "There's a lot of questions about safety and so on that I wanted to ask. My home is going to get the dust, the traffic, the noise and then the long-term blight of this waste."

The dilemma for the people of west Cumbria, and particularly for the village of Gosforth, close by the site, is that the area is largely dependent on the nuclear industry - the waste for the repository would come from British Nuclear Fuel's Sellafield reprocessing plant two miles from Longlands Farm.

"A lot of people are afraid to speak out because of job security. Every family has somebody associated with Sellafield," Mrs Lowry said. She would like the waste stored above ground where it could be monitored until science developed new means of disposal.

The inquiry is into Nirex's proposal for a pounds 194m "rock characterisation facility" which would consist of two shafts of up to 935m (3,068ft) deep. If the planned 10-year programme showed the rock safe for the storage of intermediate level waste, the company would press ahead with the full repository.

Local opinion is deeply divided over the proposed dump and even among the nuclear industry's supporters, there is mistrust over whether Nirex would abandon the site if the test results proved unfavourable.

Mike McKinley, a district councillor and Gosforth shop-keeper, believes that if Nirex made their results available for scrutiny, the fears of many people would be assuaged.

"My constituents and customers are both pro and anti. We have to go ahead with the RCF to see whether the rock is acceptable because without it we will never know," he said.

He thinks the Nirex development might bring more customers to his shop, selling newspapers and general goods, in the "off season", but wonders whether it will deter tourists from the nearby western area of the Lake District National Park.