The only local authorities in the UK still involved in feasibility studies have voted against the disposal facility

Martin, Wednesday 30 January 2013 16.09 GMT

Government plans to undertake preliminary work on an underground storage dump for nuclear waste were rejected by Cumbria county council on Wednesday, adding a major roadblock to plans for a long term solution to the problem of nuclear waste.

The county and its western district councils Allerdale and Copeland which make up the “nuclear coast” opposite the Isle of Man were the only local authorities in the UK still involved in feasibility studies for the £12bn disposal facility.

Cumbria’s cabinet voted 7-3 against research continuing, after evidence from independent geologists that the fractured strata of the county was impossible to entrust with such dangerous material and a hazard lasting millennia. An impassioned campaign by environmentalists also raised fears for the western Lake District, winning backing from the Lake District national park authority and hundreds of influential landscape groups in the UK and overseas.

Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, said the government would continue to search for an underground storage site. “We remain firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of radioactive waste. We also remain committed to the principles of voluntarism and a community-led approach.

“The fact that Copeland voted in favour of entering the search for a potential site for a GDF [geological disposal facility] demonstrates that communities recognise the benefits associated with hosting such a facility. For any host community there will be a substantial community benefits package, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. That is in addition to the hundreds of jobs and major investment that such a huge infrastructure project could bring.”

Suitable candidates for the depot, the size of an underground Workington and required to meet unprecedented safety guarantees of up to a million years, had been whittled down to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Solway Firth and the wild grandeur of the western fells around Ennerdale and Eskdale. Voting to proceed would have been only a very early step along the way, but evidence that drilling and prospecting would have brought roads and temporary settlements to some of the UK’s loveliest countryside left many aghast.