Sellafield lab to be rejected: Call for inquiry deals huge blow to nuclear waste disposal scheme

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE NUCLEAR industry's plans to dispose of its waste deep underground near Sellafield in Cumbria will suffer a severe setback this week.

Cumbria County Council is expected to refuse planning permission for a underground laboratory vital to the industry's plans.

Instead, the county council wants the Secretary of State for the Environment to hold a wide-ranging public inquiry into the whole project.

The decision will be a blow to the Government, which had hoped to avoid a public inquiry over the laboratory, known as a Rock Characterisation Facility (RCF). The council has moved with considerable speed, considering it received the application for planning permission from UK Nirex, the industry's waste disposal company, only on 1 August.

The issue will be considered tomorrow by a special sub-committee, authorised to act on behalf of the council during the summer holiday period.

Last week, the Department of the Environment published a Green Paper on radioactive waste disposal policy and announced that public hearings would be held in Cumbria as part of a wide-ranging review of radioactive waste disposal strategy.

There were hopes that these developments might defuse the county council's demands for a public inquiry at this stage.

But internal documents, seen by the Independent, show that Cumbria County Council does not believe that the review meets its concerns because it 'expressly excludes site-specific issues; such as the specific basis on which the Sellafield area became the focus for Nirex's detailed investigations, the results to date of the investigations and the particular role and contribution of the RCF'.

The documents note that although the Government's review is now under way, 'no firm outcome in terms of new policy can be expected before the spring of 1995. Given these current policy uncertainties, it remains difficult to see how the RCF application can be properly determined'.

There are concerns locally that once the nuclear industry has committed so much money and prestige to the Sellafield site, it would be effectively unable to withdraw even if conditions are not completely satisfactory.

Last week, as part of its Green Paper, the Government suggested that some of the safety criteria governing disposal of nuclear waste might be relaxed, which would make it easier to justify the Sellafield site.