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Nuclear waste - tarnishing the Lake District 'brand'?

Chris Satori
The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) has issued a consultation response that indicates that its sole concern about proposals for a dump for high-level nuclear waste to be built under the Lake District is bad publicity to the Lakeland 'brand'. The proposed Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) (nuclear waste dump) within the National Park would be the first of its kind, would become known throughout the world, and must remain intact and sealed from any groundwater seepage for several hundred thousand years with potentially deadly consequences to the region if it should weaken at any point in that era.
Their response to the government's 'Managing Radioactive Waste Safely' (MRWS) public consultation can be downloaded as a PDF document here.

Practically every local parish council near the proposed site has voted vehemently against it (read more here). Keswick Council in particular is worried that a dump for high-level radioactive waste would put paid to the Lake District's hopes of becoming a World Heritage Site, a status that would attract increasing jobs and funding as natural green spaces are shrinking elsewhere. Recent earth tremors in nearby Ambleside have focussed minds on the problem.

However the LDNPA's concerns are, worryingly, not with possible radioactive pollution to the Lakeland water table or geological instability over millenia but simply about 'spin' - with polluting the ‘brand’ of the Lake District. Despite many letters from objectors locally and nationally, in their recent response to the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership (MWRS) consultation on the proposed dump they raised only one concern:

“We welcome the additional research on Brand Protection and await the outcomes of the research. This will hopefully build on the perception research undertaken by GVA Consultants which highlighted concerns amongst visitors to the Lake District National Park and Cumbria in general.
It remains a concern that significant media interest highlights the potential location of the geological disposal facility in the ‘Lake District’ rather than ‘West Cumbria’. As a result of the association of a geological disposal facility and the Lake District we remain very concerned that there may be a direct impact on businesses operating within and trading off the brand of the Lake District.”

In other words, they seek assurance that any piece of nuclear news in the public media should henceforth refer only to 'West Cumbria' and never to 'The Lake District'. The suggestion that ‘West Cumbria’ is a different entity to the ‘Lake District’ is misleading, however and has enraged Cumbrians who are passionately attached to their National Park - the jewel in the their own 'brand'.  The British Geological Survey report to the government on potential GDF sites ruled out much of Cumbria  - except the area that that lay within the National Park boundaries. The proposed site, near the popular visitor destination of  Gosforth,  with its many charming hotels, lies within the National Park and is a stone's throw from Ennerdale, Wastwater and Buttermere.

The fact that Labour peer and ex-Cabinet member Lord Clark of Windermere is chair of the LDNPA partnership and also a non-executive director of Sellafield Ltd also appears to illustrate the close association between the Lake District and the nuclear industry. It has not gone unnoticed by local anti-nuclear campaigners, many of whom who see a direct conflict of interest between the two roles.

Opponents believe that attempts to 'spin' a potential Lakeland nuclear waste dump as 'West Cumbrian' is an irresponsible strategy of deception that glibly condemns both Cumbria and the Lake District as a whole to inevitable environmental catastrophe. The knock on effects for the North Lancashire visitor industry are serious.  Being a gateway to Wastwater is attractive.  Being a gateway to 'Nuclear Wastewater' less so.

From the nuclear industry's point of view, which its executives are committed to support, a disposal 'solution' for long-term deadly toxic waste is the key to any future nuclear development. The current priority is simply to drive through the fresh public consultation stage with their plan intact. Their problem seems to be how to prevent the public from actually noticing that Lakeland, a precious national asset, is at stake. The LDNPA is the Lake District planning authority. Its support is vital and its chair Baron Clark is in a key position to oversee delivery of that support.  Their response is clear:  'Stop telling anyone'.

The Labour Government's previous nuclear consultation on building a new generation of reactors in the UK was declared a 'sham excercise' in a High Court ruling in 2007. For the Lake District National Park planning authority to be clearly advocating media deception of the public in the debate over the siting of the GDF under the National Park certainly suggests that yet another 'sham exercise' is under way.

Local artist Marianne Birkby, an active member of Radiation Free Lakeland, blogs:  'No matter how many taxpayer £millions are poured into a “Brand Protection Strategy” the only way to protect the ‘Lake District Brand’ is to say no to nuclear developments, everything else is rearranging the branded deck chairs on the Titanic.'