Exploring the possibility of building an underground radioactive waste store in Copeland could have a significant economic impact for the community, the group leading the investigation has said.
It has released a video and information to help people understand the impacts of hosting a geological disposal facility, or GDF.
The proposal is a controversial one.
After an initial plan several years ago was rejected by Cumbria County Council, the Government began a second attempt to find a location to store the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste.
Separate GDF working groups have been set up in Copeland and Allerdale to explore if either borough would be a suitable location and gauge local reaction. Members include councillors from the local authorities and people from the community.
Radioactive Waste Management is leading the overall project.
However, in March, Cumbria County Council declined to become involved in the initial process, with leader Stewart Young saying the council’s involvement would give the process a credibility that it did not deserve.
This week, the Copeland working party has released information explaining benefits for the community if work continues to explore siting a GDF in the borough.
Councillor David Moore, Copeland council’s portfolio holder for nuclear services and a member of the Copeland GDF Working Group, said: “At its start, a community could receive up to £1 million per year and this could be over a considerable period of time.
“The opportunities for this community will include setting up a local grants panel.
“By accepting these community benefits does not mean you accept a GDF – that funding is to get people involved and engaged in the process. At any time, if the community feels that it is not for them, it can withdraw.
“As investigations progress, should RWM be required to undertake invasive work, such as digging boreholes, that community funding goes up to £2.5 million a year.
“This process cannot then go further without first testing public support, such as through a referendum. I would say it’s a significant opportunity.”
This is what the Copeland GDF working party has released:
What are the community benefits of a GDF?
This month we consider the community benefits of a GDF. This could include millions of pounds of community investment funding which is triggered once a Community Partnership is formed, as well as significant additional investment, economic and employment opportunities for a community which eventually hosts a GDF.
The process of finding a suitable site for a GDF, somewhere in England and Wales, could take up to 15 years. Although that may seem a long way off, the multi-billion investment of a GDF would be transformational for an area.
Early benefits of forming a Community Partnership
As part of its role to start a conversation around GDF locally and identify a Search Area(s) – the Copeland GDF Working Group will begin to identify local people who may be interested in joining a Community Partnership – a group which will go on to consider possibilities in more detail. This partnership would also involve Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) and at least one relevant Principal Local Authority – such as district or county councils.
It’s at this point of forming a Community Partnership that community investment funding of up to £1 million a year will be available. This figure rises to up to £2.5 million a year once deep borehole investigations start, part of the process to understand the geology.
The funding would be available to applicants in the form of grants for each community that forms a Community Partnership. In allocating resources, the Community Partnership will listen to local views and priorities, for example, supporting sports, economic development, tourism and community wellbeing.
Community investment funding will be available for as long as the Community Partnership is part of the process.
Mike Brophy, Radioactive Waste Management’s head of social impact, said: “The commitment to this early funding arose from reviewing previous GDF discussions which ended in 2013. Throughout the process, people understood that the GDF would have brought massive benefits – but when the process ended, none of those benefits could be realised.
“Now, communities can use the investment funding before any commitment to a GDF, benefiting from engaging in the process whatever the outcome.
“This time, communities will be at the heart of the siting process for a GDF and a facility will only be built where there’s both a suitable site and a willing community.”
The role of the Community Partnership includes developing a vision for the future about how a GDF could benefit a community over the long term and what significant improvements people would like to see in their area.
Communities have an ongoing right of withdrawal from discussions and the local population must give consent to host a facility, through a test of public support, before a planning application for a facility can be made.
Only following a positive test of public support and after the relevant permissions from the independent regulators have been obtained, could construction start.
Significant future investment and job creation
Once a site has been eventually chosen for a GDF, investment in local infrastructure such as road, rail, power and broadband networks would be needed to enable its construction and operation.
Significant additional investment will also become available to that host community. This will replace the Community Investment Funding and recognise the long-term commitment from the community.
This significant investment could include improved local education and skills capacity, improved transport infrastructure or recreational facilities, developing community facilities and business opportunities.
This major infrastructure project would also bring hundreds of well-paid jobs every year for over a century in construction, engineering, safety and project management (with opportunity for the jobs and skills to be undertaken and developed by people in the community) plus further opportunities for the local supply chain.
Successful operation of a GDF could also require a number of facilities such as training and visitor centres, plus Research and Development, bringing additional employment.
Mr Brophy added: “RWM is committed to making the most of every opportunity to have a positive local impact, and we have started already by employing staff and contracting with suppliers from the area.
“Many infrastructure projects create jobs, many of them highly skilled. What makes a GDF different, is that while the initial GDF construction phase will stretch over around 10 years and require a workforce of up to 2,000 during the peak period – the total construction and operation will take well over 100 years, employing local people and supporting local businesses.
“Construction activities will continue throughout its operational lifetime as the network of tunnels and vaults are extended stage by stage.
“A GDF will be receiving waste for more than a century. Some jobs will require external specialists, but many skills will be available locally, along with suppliers.
“We plan to recruit as many local people and businesses as possible, as well as invest in training to build sufficient expertise for the operational years ahead. When we understand more about a potential location, we’ll be able to develop a clearer picture.”