The search for community to host a multi-billion pound facility to store the UK's most hazardous nuclear waste is to be discussed by Copeland Council chiefs this week.

This will be the first time its nuclear panel has met since last month’s announcement that the Government would be re-opening of the hunt for a volunteer “host community”.

The council is yet to agree its official stance on the creation of a multi-billion pound underground waste repository known as a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).

But Wednesday’s meeting of the authority’s Strategic Nuclear and Energy Board will kick-start the thrashing out of that formal position.

The board will also be asked to agree to programme of “briefing sessions” for council members, and to make comment on the public consultation.

Because the nuclear waste is already at Sellafield, Copeland will be affected whether it opts to become the site of the GDF or not.

The nuclear waste repository could potentially be based anywhere in Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

But if the underground disposal facility was built elsewhere, the waste would still have to be transported out of Copeland safely – a huge logistical feat.

David Moore, portfolio holder for nuclear and corporate services, said that the borough therefore needed to be involved at every step of the process regardless of the outcome.

He said: “You will hear about the search for a ‘host community’. But we already are a host community. The logistics of moving it are absolutely massive.”

Coun Moore also explained how the process now underway differed from the Government’s previous exercises.

He said: “In the past a local authority could put its hand up to volunteer. But now landowners who might be interested are also being asked to come forward – though it would have to be a reasonably-sized piece of land.

“This is not about local authorities putting their hand up – it’s about putting together a community partnership. In effect, the process could be taken forward without local authority support – and it would be up to the council to decide whether it would support that project going forward.

“We could end up with two or three community partnerships – or may end up with one. The next step is explaining to our councillors exactly what the process is that the Government has opened.”

Up to £1 million pound a year in community engagement funding would be awarded to the community partnership to help them develop the plans.
At this stage no sites have been earmarked for the huge storage vaults which would be built many hundreds of metres beneath the ground – a major undertaking creating hundreds of jobs and taking many decades.

The Government re-launched a public consultation in response to claims communities were not sufficiently involved last time around and that the process had not been clearly explained.

A spokesman for Copeland council said the: “We will continue to press the Government to progress the process, recognising the risk to the environment and local communities that the current interim storage of this waste and the continued delay in bringing forward a site for a GDF, presents.

“At this stage, the council has no preference or position with regard to the location of the GDF locally or nationally but recognise that the Copeland community is affected regardless of the final choice of site for a GDF.”