In the last hours of parliament before the general election, a new law was rushed through which means that local communities may have nuclear waste dumps imposed on them without the need for public support.
By classing nuclear waste sites as “nationally significant infrastructure projects”, the decisions for their locations can be made by the Secretary of State for Energy without the support of the local council or communities of residents. Additionally, they will not be bound to recommendations made by the planning inspectorate.
The use of nuclear energy in power stations, weaponry and medicine over the past 50 years has left a legacy of radioactive waste which needs to store somewhere on a long term basis. Radioactive waste can remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The UK also has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, one of the most toxic, radioactive substances ever created.
There is no long term solution in place for storing nuclear energy as current plans only last for up to two hundred years. Whilst there is a need for a long term strategy for radioactive waste, these decisions cannot be made without the support of local people who will have to co-exist in a potentially dangerous environment.
Local decisions by local residents
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated that they would prefer to work with public support and were willing to take action even if they failed to achieve the needed support from local people.
Following a proposal to develop a deep storage site at Sellafield, local groups have growing concerns. Cumbria County Council rejected the construction of a nuclear waste storage facility in January 2013. There is currently no evidence to support the long term safety of this type of storage, and no evidence to suggest that the geology of this area is suitable. Germany recently put on hold similar plans, and the only existing site in this style, based in New Mexico, has been closed following two accidents.
Whilst a local community can now reject the construction of onshore wind farms, they cannot deny fracking or the storage of nuclear waste. This shows that the government is willing to bypass the decisions of local communities to support unsustainable and potentially dangerous projects, limiting our ability to aid in the generation of sustainable energy.
Local communities should be able to have a decisive say in all matters concerning our energy landscape whether this is dangerous nuclear waste shortage, shale gas or coal bed methane drilling where they live as the quality of their living environment is at stake.