In response to rumors that Lake District, a mountainous region in North West England, is being considered as a burial site for nuclear waste, conservationists, including the National Trust, have urged ministers to prevent this possibility.
In January, the government began to actively look for a new site after a past search was met with opposition from local communities. This time around, ministers have refused to exclude national parks from consideration. Environmental organizations have reminded the government that burying nuclear waste under national parks could threaten the £6 billion tourism industry.
“We recognize that safe disposal of nuclear waste is one of the key challenges our society currently faces but this should not be used as an excuse to put at risk the huge range of benefits these areas deliver for society, the environment, and the economy,” environmental groups wrote in joint letter to the nuclear energy minister, Richard Harrington.
Lake District, which was designated a national park in 1951, is the most visited national park in the country with nearly 16 million visitors a year. It is the largest of the thirteen national parks in England and Wales, and the second largest in the UK after the Cairngorms. Lake District has been considered as a potential site due to Cumbria’s nuclear past as well as its proximity to Sellafield, where most of the nation’s nuclear waste is stockpiled.
The groups, including the Woodland Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said Harrington was endangering the “long-established protections” that national parks have by equating a deep nuclear waste facility to a potash mine in North Yorkshire. Harrington, who referenced the mine as an example of changes within national parks, told MPs this summer that the mine would “leave very little blot on the landscape.”
When asked if he would discount national parks as locations for nuclear waste storage, Harrington said: “I am not saying we should have them on national parks but it would be very wrong to exclude them at the moment in this big policy statement.”
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Furthermore, ministers also argued that “we cannot afford to restrict the siting process” and “most of the facility will be underground,” in letters to environmentalists, and concluded that national parks should not be excluded as potential storage sites for nuclear waste.
Roy Payne, the executive director of GDF Watch, which is examining the process to select a site, said that even if parks were considered, there was little chance the storage facility could be built since local communities would make the final decision.
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson added that “Legislation already ensures developments in national parks can only proceed in exceptional circumstances and must be appropriate and proportionate.”