The government has been accused of rigging the consultation process to select the site of a proposed nuclear waste storage facility in favour of a location that some geologists labelled as unsafe.
Leading geologists told the Observer that they believed the government pushed for the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria to house the facility, despite an official inquiry finding that it is unsuitable for the storage of radioactive waste.
Though an official inquiry in 1996 ruled against it, critics say a government consultation that closed last month has been drafted to ensure that the Cumbrian site is chosen. This, they say, is because the relevant local borough councils of Copeland and Allerdale are keen to volunteer the location.
Cumbria county council had previously voted against the proposals, but they have now been shut out of the process.
“This is exactly what you would do if you wanted to get into negotiations with two borough councils that you know want this to happen,” said Professor Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University.
“The government is trying to manufacture a consensus, but it’s effectively saying: if a majority of the planning subcommittee are in favour, just four out of 51 elected councillors, we will ignore all the surrounding population.”
Though the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management and the Geological Society of London have both suggested that the site should not be ruled out, some experts have expressed concern that the fractured geology of the site makes it unsuitable for safely storing nuclear waste.
“If you put radioactive waste in the wrong place, it may be impossible to clean it up,” Haszeldine warned.
In a report recently published by the National Audit Office, the operators of the controversial Sellafield installation – the UK’s largest nuclear site, which is currently being decommissioned – were criticised for failing to develop a long-term plan for nuclear waste management.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesperson stressed that no decision regarding the location of the proposed new facility has been made.