LONDON (Reuters) - The government set out on Thursday to find a local community willing to have the country’s deadly nuclear waste buried in its backyard.
The call for local authorities to step forward to discuss hosting a deep geological nuclear disposal facility came as the government made its clearest plea yet for the country to be at the forefront of the global civil nuclear power resurgence.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn published a consultation paper on nuclear waste disposal suggesting waste should be buried deep underground -- in line with a recommendation by a specialist committee two years ago.
“The Government ... will be looking to sit down and discuss, with any community that feels it has an interest, both the technical aspects of the safe implementation of a geological disposal facility and the wider social, economic and environment issues involved,” Benn said.
He noted that deep geological disposal was the preferred means in countries such as the United States, France and Canada for dealing with high level nuclear waste which remains deadly for thousands of years.
The government argues that nuclear power must be key part of the country’s future energy mix because it emits little climate warming carbon, is a reliable source of power and is a way of guaranteeing energy security.
Industry Secretary John Hutton told a nuclear industry conference in London on Thursday, “To meet our energy goals, we must do everything we can to ensure new nuclear power stations are available as soon as possible.”
“The UK must aim to become the world’s number one location for new nuclear investment,” he said.
All but one of the country’s nuclear power plants, which generate 19 percent of the country’s electricity, are due to be retired within 20 years.
But climate campaigners reject new nuclear power as being dirty, deadly and a distraction from necessary investments in renewable energy sources like wind, solar and waves.
“Nuclear waste is a financial and geological nightmare,” said Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Nathan Argent. “There is no plausible solution for our existing legacy waste, let alone the waste from new reactors.”
Legacy waste refers to waste material left over from Britain’s nuclear bomb programme dating back to the 1950s as well as that from the early and existing fleet of civil nuclear power plants.
Current disposal cost estimates already stand at 73 billion pounds but are still rising steeply.
“Nuclear power isn’t needed to meet our energy needs or tackle climate change. The government should be investing in far safer and cleaner solutions such as energy efficiency and safe renewable power,” said Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Neil Crumpton.
The government has announced a feasibility study into a 15 billion pound tidal barrage across the River Severn that could generate five percent of the country’s electricity.
But an independent report on Tuesday said it made no economic or environmental sense and should not proceed.
Editing by Caroline Drees
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