The Lake District's Ennerdale is one of three possible locations for a high-level nuclear waste repository. Dubbed a 'geological disposal facility’, the installation would store intensely hot and highly radioactive spent fuel deep underground. Cath Flitcroft assesses the impact – and calls on BMC members to sign a petition to protect this iconic and wild corner of the Lakes.
As a result of its long history in the nuclear industry, Sellafield in Cumbria has been the temporary dumping ground for the UK's radioactive waste for the past 60 years. But proposals for the development of a new more permament underground store could have severe environmental and economic impacts and have been met with intense opposition.
Plans have been drawn up to take waste directly from from Sellafield via a 10km tunnel to an underground facility starting at a depth of 300-400m – the height of the Eiffel Tower – below the surface of Ennerdale Water down to 1,000m.
In 2008, Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale Borough Council and Cumbria County Council made an expression of interest to the government about siting a repository in West Cumbria, including those parts of the National Park in Copeland and Allerdale, although the authorities have not yet committed fully to the process.
Earlier in 2012, the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership (MRWSP) – made up of councillors and organisations with an interest in the area, including the National Park, the National Farmers Union and Cumbria Tourism – consulted on the local geology, impacts on people and the environment, safety, security, planning and design.
They have now agreed a report outlining the issues involved in the search for a site capable of safely storing higher-level radioactive waste. The report is being considered by the three councils who will make a formal decision in January 2013 about whether they will take part in the process.
Although the decision is pending, the idea has raised considerable local concern. Friends of the Earth (FoE), Save Our Lake District – Don’t Dump Cumbria and Radiation Free Lakeland are all campaigning to stop the proposals from going any further, and more recently, the 38 degrees campaign has got on board.
A No Nuclear Dump petition has been set up to try to ensure the Council understand the public's concern for the natural beauty of the Lake District and to return a 'no' vote in January 2013.
Although the council denies any area has been identifie yet, Ennerdale Valley is rumoured to be favourite. If this is the case and operations are given the green light, intrusive investigative work including test drilling and seismic surveying would be carried out.
During the construction stage, which would last decades, an underground facility the size of Carlisle would be built under Iron Crag and a surface facility the size of the present Sellafield site would be located at the head of Ennerdale Water, near Gillerthwaite.
Access up the valley would be problematic and many local roads would need to be widened and strengthened to accommodate industrial traffic, including drilling rigs and spoil wagons. A surface roadway from Gillerthwaite to the top of Ennerdale Fell may also be needed which would need to spiral clockwise round the back of Iron Crag.
As well as the geological complexities that need to be overcome, the area lies within one of our most iconic National Parks and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Developments could lead to the pollution of Ennerdale Water and the permanent scarring of Ennerdale Fell.
So far the National Park Authority has not taken a definitive position on a below ground repository as they do not know the facts and risks in detail. However, along with a growing number of worried Lakeland locals and visitors, they have expressed concern that a repository below the National Park and the perception of such a proposal is not in the long term interests of the Lake District.
The proposals could jeopardize the statutory purposes of the National Park, its farming and resident communities as well as the visitor economy.
The BMC are concerned about the potential consequences of these proposals on the landscape of the Lake District, in particular the impact they may have on access to or the enjoyment of climbing, walking and mountaineering in the Lakes, and would encourage our members to sign the No Nuclear Dump petition.