Minister approves nuclear waste dump near Peterborough

Contaminated waste is expected to be transported to the landfill site at King's Cliffe by road from Harwell in Oxfordshire

The government has ignored local planning objections and pushed through a controversial scheme to allow 250,000 tonnes a year of nuclear waste to be dumped in a traditional landfill site in a Northants village.

Residents said they were shocked that such a groundbreaking decision could be taken before the conclusions of a wide-ranging debate about radioactive safety after the Fukushima atomic plant crisis.

But Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government said that "the risk of actual harm from the development would be very low" and it should therefore be given the go-ahead.

The decision at the site at King's Cliffe, a village near Peterborough, could have significant implications for other areas where landfill is needed to deal with the large volumes of low level waste from the UK's atomic industry.

Britain's only purpose-built low level waste depository at Drigg in Cumbria is rapidly filling up. Ministers decided last year that the law should be changed to allow traditional landfill sites to be used in some circumstances.

There is another row in Cumbria after the Environment Agency gave the go-ahead last month for a permit to dispose radioactive waste at the Lillyhall landfill site, from the Sellafield nuclear complex. The government desperately needs a solution to the high waste stored at plants around the country as it proceeds with plans for new nuclear facilities.

Augean, the waste management outfit, is expected to bring waste in to the east Northamptonshire site at King's Cliffe by road from Harwell in Oxfordshire, which was established in 1946 as Britain's first atomic energy research establishment. But local residents fear that the facility could also be used for waste created at other nuclear plants such as Bradwell in Essex.

Planning permission had been denied by Northamptonshire county council and a local referendum had damned the scheme but Augean appealed to the secretary of state, saying the 250,000 tonnes would be mainly made up of relatively uncontaminated rubble and other debris. It argued that the facility has accepted hazardous waste without harmful effect on the environment or local economy.

In a statement, Augean said: "We are very pleased that our planning application has withstood the close examination of the inquiry and that the secretary of state has upheld our proposals for East Northamptonshire Resource Management Facility. His support joins that of the Environment Agency in allowing this important scheme to go ahead."

The company, which has no prior experience of handling nuclear waste and has been fined by the Environment Agency for past breaches of regulations, said it would work with local residents to further allay any concerns.

But Clare Langan, a local resident and member of the campaign group King's Cliffe Waste Watchers, said she was bitterly disappointed that the green light had been given to Augean.

"In a post-Fukushima environment where nuclear planning is being halted in Germany and Japan it seems bizarre that the (UK) government is blundering ahead with disposing of nuclear waste in the most absurdly inappropriate place," she said.

Louise Bagshaw, MP for nearby Corby, told the BBC the decision undermined the government's professed commitment to localism. "We had a local referendum at the ballot box, not a petition, actual votes cast and 96% of people were against this dump. I will be asking the secretary of state why his department has taken this appalling decision."

The decision got the thumbs up from the City though. Edison Investment Research put out a note on Augean saying that this potentially lucrative waste business could "transform the economics within the group."

The decision by the Environment Agency to agree to radioactive dumping at Lillyhall by the Waste Recycling Group and its partner Energy Solutions has angered local residents and authorities there.

Allerdale borough council, Copeland borough council and Cumbria county council all objected to the scheme. "My fear is that this decision opens up the market for this waste to be disposed of wherever the best deal on costs is on offer, rather than factoring in the wider environmental and economic concerns," said Tim Knowles, the councillor responsible for the environment at the county council.


Terry Macalister

The GuardianTramp

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