The West Cumbria MRWS Partnership was formed in 2009. Its job was to take forward 3 ‘expressions of interest’ from Councils in Cumbria – Allerdale and Copeland Boroughs, and Cumbria County Council – to look into the matter of volunteering to host a dump for high and intermediate level radwaste in return for a package of ‘community benefits’ – or ‘bribe’ as many people see it. www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk
It completed its work in summer 2012 with a ‘CONsultation’ and an opinion poll to see what the public thought.
The CONsultation (21 Nov 2011 – 23 March 2011) attracted a large number of responses – see some of them on our ‘Consent and Planning’ page. At this point,
Many LOCAL COUNCILS withdrew support for the MRWS
During this time, there was much activity among local Parish and Town Councils and some took votes on whether they supported the idea of proceeding to a further stage. Most were against the idea – see the blog for maps and lists.
In late April 2012 the Cumbria Association for Local Councils (CALC)decided – following these votes, and after hearing the arguments - that the whole process lacked ‘credibility and viability’.
The main candidate site, in Gosforth, where previous attempts were made by Nirex in 1995 – 7, has voted against going ahead.
Follow the link for a report: http://www.i-nuclear.com/2012/
Further concerns within the Partnership expressed
During the consultation, other members of the Partnership expressed concerns about the process — representatives of South Lakeland Council and Churches Together in Cumbria
The opinion poll
This was commissioned by IPSOS MORI, and asked people ‘based on what they already knew’ whether their Council should go ahead to to take part in the search for a site.
Much has been made of the results: a majority of people said ‘yes’. But when you look at the previous question about people’s levels of knowledge, it turns out that only around 20 % had anything more than a passing knowledge about it.
The people polled knew little about this complex process which has 300+ documents on its website!
See our Blog for details.
The MRWS ‘Consultation’
The ‘consultation’ held in winter 2011 – spring 2012 invited people to respond to 8 questions.
Despite receiving many detailed arguments against the positions put forward in the 8 questions – more people put forward arguments against than for it – the Partnership received an overall number in favour! This has happened as a result of a set of responses just saying ‘yes, go ahead’ arriving in a brown envelope at the last minute.
See the mrws website for further details about the consultation questions: http://www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk/images/242-Full%20Consultation%20Document%20-%20West%20Cumbria%20MRWS%20Partnership%20November%202011.pdf
The results, in answer to the individual questions were:
1. Do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on geology?
yes = 227 no = 304
2. Do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on safety, security, environment and planning?
yes = 217 no = 290
3. Do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on the impacts, both positive and negative, of a repository in West Cumbria?
yes = 212 no = 278
4. Do you agree with Partnership’s initial opinions on a Community Benefits Package?
yes = 189 no = 273
5. Do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on Design and Engineering ?
yes = 208 no = 222
6. Do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on the Inventory ? (this refers to what exactly will go into the dump)
yes = 184 no = 228
7. do you agree with the Partnership’s initial opinions on the process for siting a repository?
yes = 189 no = 274
FOR EVERY QUESTION, A MAJORITY PUT FORWARD ARGUMENTS AGAINST …. then came Question 8, needing no arguments at all, just a yes or a no.
8. What are your views on whether the areas covered by Allerdale and / or Copeland Borough Councils should take part in the search for somewhere to put a repository, without any commitments to have it?
yes = 420 no = 300 (provisional figures)
— reversing the whole trend!
The Partnership has published its final report. There has been much disagreement over this because members have taken different views, with dissenting voices from
- Cumbria Association of Local Councils
- Churches Together in Cumbria
- The representatives of South Lakeland District Council
The Partnership cannot make recommendations, because this would essentially mean the 3 Councils giving advice to themselves. The Partnership finally came to this conclusion as a result of taking legal advice.
The next stage is for the 3 Councils to make their decisions in October 11th 2012
Although the Partnership is officially dissolved, it is busy making plans for a new one – a Community Siting Partnership – when the Councils make their decisions, and many of them hope that the rush will continue to dump nuclear waste somewhere in Cumbria.
How the MRWS Partnership originated
The problem of what to do with nuclear waste in the UK has consistently been pushed aside for the past 60 years, as though somehow in the future a solution will emerge. When sites have been identified, communities have objected (understandably); the selection processes have been flawed, and so have the industry’s plans.
A new approach – volunteering
We are now told that ‘voluntarism’ is the way forward – a ‘partnership’ approach instead of the old ways of ‘decide, announce, defend’ (DAD). The idea is that certain communities may be more willing than others to host a nuclear dump, and that they can be offered ‘community benefits’ in return.
In 2008, a new ‘fleet’ of nuclear reactors was being planned, and government needed to deal with the fact that there was no plan for the waste from existing plants (called ‘legacy’ waste), let alone all the new waste that would be created.
….. here is the plan:
Instead of being guided by a clear planning system, MRWS follows a government White Paper – a policy paper – published in June 2008. Much of the policy is vague, and doubts have been raised about how legally binding it is. There are understandable concerns that plans and processes could change dramatically if the policy is changed. Here is the link to it:
Government then formally invited local Councils to register an ‘expression of interest’ in hosting a dump.
They did not even have to have a site in mind!
Despite the Government having written to all councils in England Wales, only in Cumbria have Councils taken up this ‘offer’. Copeland rushed to respond without even consulting anyone (as the White paper recommends). Allerdale and Cumbria took a bit longer. More recently, councillors in Kent have decided to consider the matter, and they are consulting with local people about it.
‘We’ve got most of the waste here already, so why move it?’
was Copeland’s main argument. This is thanks to all the reprocessing that takes place at the Sellafield site – which has bought spent fuel to Cumbria from all over the UK for the past 50 years.
Government then funded the W Cumbria MRWS Partnership – with leading roles for the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA) and Public Relations – creating a talking shop without a legal remit.
This is a novel approach which turns planning on its head and is being made up on the hoof.
And safety questions, concerns about geology, the number of dumps which might be needed, the quantity of radioactive waste involved, traffic flows, the disposal of spoil from a hole as big as the Channel Tunnel, the economic impact on the area – are all being left until later….
- when it may be too late to turn back
- OR the whole exercise will be shown to have been another costly mistake.
How the MRWS is supported by taxpayers
The Government is very much in favour of disposal and the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) paid £1.1million for the MRWS process in 2010 – 2011. The MRWS Partnership www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk paid for independent facilitation from the firm 3KQ, www.3kq.co.uk and for Communications to the PR company Osprey Communications, www.ospreycommunications.co.uk. It also paid for a lot of bureaucracy: more than 300 documents are listed on the website.
3KQ and Osprey appeared keen to progress things. Documents and media reports have put a positive spin on the process, and by implication the proposals. At best there is a nod to the existence of opposing views. But they NEVER provide a platform for full debate.
Why don’t we join the Partnership?
The Partnership DID issue invitations to environmental groups with critical views of its work. But they have always been tokenistic. First, the idea of one seat, shared between environmental NGOs was offered, in the very early days. Later it was increased to two.
In February 2010, Ruth Balogh & Jean McSorley accepted an invitation to make a presentation to the Partnership to explain their own personal positions (as informed people who had followed previous nuclear waste discussions).
You can download the Powerpoint presentation here: JM & RB MRWS slides Feb10
One of the actions the Partnership undertook as a result of this presentation was to commission a review of how NGOs were involved in similar processes overseas. The NDA undertook the review; it’s at:
but it strangely omitted the case of Canada, where there is a very robust approach that funds ‘the opposition’ to commission independent peer review and critique of plans and proposals. Yet the NDA were not ignorant of this – they referred to Canada in a literature review they produced for the White Paper!
On the basis of the NDA’s work, the Partnership concluded there was little to be learned from international experiences of NGO involvement. This is an example of how too much is in the hands of the NDA, whose role it is to progress disposal.
Managing Radioactive DEBATE Safely
The Partnership liked to be in the majority when nuclear waste disposal wasdiscussed. That way it remained in control. At its ‘drop-in’ events and ‘stakeholder workshops’ you would typically find more Partnership people than members of the public or non-Partnership stakeholders.
Experts from government & regulators came along to these events, and talked one-to-one with members of the public. Lacking the same in-depth knowledge, most members of the public found themselves at a disadvantage. Valid points which required specific responses were often sidestepped, sometimes wilfully misunderstood, and instead the questions noted as ‘concerns’ and registered as a ‘point of view’ rather than challenges.
Conditions, some quite trivial, were always placed on the expression of opposing views. For example, we were provided with a stall at drop-in events, but could not display posters or present slide shows – even silent ones.
What SHOULD have happened? - a rigorous argument openly debated between knowledgeable experts in public.
When expert opinion showed the flaws in technical aspects of the plans, the Partnership said it’s ‘too soon to discuss’ such matters – they must be left till later, when we may have gone yet further down a planning cul-de-sac. The process became the reason why we can’t have a debate.
Confusion about Points of View
The MRWS Partnership provided, at best, a nod to the existence of opposing views, which were often marginalised as ‘one view among many’ – whatever that means. They NEVER provided a platform for full, fair and thorough debate that recognised the extremely serious nature of concerns about the plans.
In their attempt to seem fair and balanced, the Partnership and its facilitators wanted ‘a range of views’ to be heard INSTEAD of a debate. They confused the idea of representing a range of stakeholders (different people, all having ‘views’) with representing the different sides of an argument (also ‘views’). So an opposing argument is usually pitted against a handful of different people supportive of the MRWS.
a show-stopping argument becomes ‘one view among many’!
And it can be published on the website, to demonstrate transparency. And its actual substance – the argument – ignored.
But people can recognise a stitched-up debate when they see one. It’s no surprise that there is significant scepticism about the MRWS’s work and that people have expressed the view that this is a ‘done deal’ and final decisions will be taken out of the hands of local communities.
Here is what nuclear energy expert Benjamin Sovacool says about such approaches and the way they have been used in other parts of the world:
‘Nuclear groups employ public consultation sessions to (1) demonstrate consent and approval when they do get it, or (2) construct the public as having fragmented values and opinions that will never be overcome when they do not get it, telling regulators they should ultimately defer to the nuclear industry. This situation does not bode well for democracy … as the public is co-opted either way.’
Contesting the future of nuclear power Benjamin K Sovacool, World Scientific, 2011