First community partnership established in Cumbria

16 November 2021

The first of two community partnerships has been formed in Copeland, Cumbria, UK, to take forward discussions around siting a geological disposal facility (GDF) for high-level radioactive waste. The move comes a year after an initial Copeland Working Group was established. A second partnership is expected to be formed soon in neighbouring South Copeland.

The onshore Mid Copeland search area (in solid green) identified by the Copeland GDF Working Group for consideration (Image: RWM)

Following decisions from Copeland Borough Council and Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) to form two Community Partnerships in Copeland, the first - in Mid Copeland - has now launched. As well as Copeland Borough Council and RWM, initial membership of the Mid Copeland GDF Community Partnership also includes Cumbria Association of Local Councils. A recruitment process has started and more members will be recruited over the next few months.

The second proposed community partnership - covering Millom and Black Combe & Scafell in South Copeland - will be launched in a few weeks once details of initial community members have been confirmed.

Community partnerships are longer-term groups made up of a larger number of people to consider the possibilities of hosting a GDF within the identified search areas in more detail. Progressing to the formation of community partnerships unlocks access to GBP1.0 million (USD1.3 million) per year investment funding for communities, per partnership, for local projects, rising to GBP2.5 million per year if deep borehole investigations to assess geology take place.

The Mid Copeland GDF Community Partnership will now focus its engagement activities on a search area covering Gosforth & Seascale and Beckermet, where a GDF might be based. The search area is based on district council wards.

As recommended by the Copeland Working Group, RWM will initially look at exploring the deep geology beyond the coast for potentially siting the underground elements of a GDF. This means a land-based surface facility could provide access to a disposal area deep in rock beyond the coast. The Lake District National Park and proposed extension will not be considered. Existing and future coal mines will also be excluded from consideration.

The Copeland Working Group agreed it would support RWM conducting geophysical surveys to gather evidence about the nature of these deep rocks in an area off the coast of Copeland in summer 2022.

"We're delighted to see the formation of a community partnership in Mid Copeland," said RWM Chief Executive Karen Wheeler. "It will provide a platform to increase community engagement and trigger investment funding for projects that should really benefit the communities involved. RWM looks forward to continuing discussions and beginning investigations in these areas for a site that could be suitable for a GDF."

Construction of a GDF requires both a suitable site and willing community. If a suitable site is eventually found in Copeland - which could take 10-15 years - a Test of Public Support, which would give people a direct say, would be held with those living in the wards affected. Without public support the project would not go ahead.

During an earlier site selection process, two communities in Cumbria - Copeland and Allerdale - had expressed interest in hosting a repository, but the process stopped in January 2013 when the local county council voted against moving to the next stage of the process. A new search for a site was launched in December 2018.

The Allerdale GDF Working Group has identified an area for further investigation covering 320 square kilometres comprising 13 electoral wards of Allerdale Borough Council, as well as an inshore area up to 22.2 kilometres off the coast. The working group has recommended that a community partnership is formed in the borough.

A GDF comprises a network of highly-engineered underground vaults and tunnels built to permanently dispose of higher activity radioactive waste so that no harmful levels of radiation ever reach the surface environment. Countries such as Finland, Sweden, France, Canada and the USA are also pursuing this option.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News