Nuclear dump threatens Lakes

Posted by Catherine Flitcroft on 18/12/2012
Under threat: beautiful Ennerdale

The Lake District's Ennerdale is one of three possible locations for a high-level nuclear waste repository. Dubbed a 'geological disposal facility’, the installation would store intensely hot and highly radioactive spent fuel deep underground. Cath Flitcroft assesses the impact – and calls on BMC members to sign a petition to protect this iconic and wild corner of the Lakes.

As a result of its long history in the nuclear industry, Sellafield in Cumbria has been the temporary dumping ground for the UK's radioactive waste for the past 60 years. But proposals for the development of a new more permament underground store could have severe environmental and economic impacts and have been met with intense opposition.

Plans have been drawn up to take waste directly from from Sellafield via a 10km tunnel to an underground facility starting at a depth of 300-400m – the height of the Eiffel Tower – below the surface of Ennerdale Water down to 1,000m. 

In 2008, Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale Borough Council and Cumbria County Council made an expression of interest to the government about siting a repository in West Cumbria, including those parts of the National Park in Copeland and Allerdale, although the authorities have not yet committed fully to the process.

Earlier in 2012, the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership (MRWSP) – made up of councillors and organisations with an interest in the area, including the National Park, the National Farmers Union and Cumbria Tourism – consulted on the local geology, impacts on people and the environment, safety, security, planning and design. 

They have now agreed a report outlining the issues involved in the search for a site capable of safely storing higher-level radioactive waste. The report is being considered by the three councils who will make a formal decision in January 2013 about whether they will take part in the process.

Although the decision is pending, the idea has raised considerable local concern. Friends of the Earth (FoE), Save Our Lake District – Don’t Dump Cumbria and Radiation Free Lakeland are all campaigning to stop the proposals from going any further, and more recently, the 38 degrees campaign has got on board. 

A No Nuclear Dump petition has been set up to try to ensure the Council understand the public's concern for the natural beauty of the Lake District and to return a 'no' vote in January 2013.

Although the council denies any area has been identifie yet, Ennerdale Valley is rumoured to be favourite. If this is the case and operations are given the green light, intrusive investigative work including test drilling and seismic surveying would be carried out.

During the construction stage, which would last decades, an underground facility the size of Carlisle would be built under Iron Crag and a surface facility the size of the present Sellafield site would be located at the head of Ennerdale Water, near Gillerthwaite.

Access up the valley would be problematic and many local roads would need to be widened and strengthened to accommodate industrial traffic, including drilling rigs and spoil wagons. A surface roadway from Gillerthwaite to the top of Ennerdale Fell may also be needed which would need to spiral clockwise round the back of Iron Crag.

As well as the geological complexities that need to be overcome, the area lies within one of our most iconic National Parks and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Developments could lead to the pollution of Ennerdale Water and the permanent scarring of Ennerdale Fell.

So far the National Park Authority has not taken a definitive position on a below ground repository as they do not know the facts and risks in detail. However, along with a growing number of worried Lakeland locals and visitors, they have expressed concern that a repository below the National Park and the perception of such a proposal is not in the long term interests of the Lake District. 

The proposals could jeopardize the statutory purposes of the National Park, its farming and resident communities as well as the visitor economy.

The BMC are concerned about the potential consequences of these proposals on the landscape of the Lake District, in particular the impact they may have on access to or the enjoyment of climbing, walking and mountaineering in the Lakes, and would encourage our members to sign the No Nuclear Dump petition.


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1) Anonymous User
In the interests of balance, why should we sign a petition based on a rumour? Surely the grown up thing would be to wait for the proposals to be put forward first? Unfortunately, my experience has been that eco organisations tend to get the wrong end of the stick when the rumours start to emerge to the extent that they loose credibility by the time the genuine legal fight starts.
2) Anonymous User
The NDA have admitted that Ennerdale and Eskdale granite is a possible option for the Geological Disposal Facility. The map on the West Cumbria MRWS website shows that the majority of area not already excluded as unsuitable is in the Lake District National Park.
3) Anonymous User
I think most objections will be on the basis that the principle of placing radioactive waste of this nature either in or under the LDNP, is incompatible with the entire, statutory, purpose of the Park. Indeed, all national parks have these purposes. Either these areas nationally are protected, or they are up for grabs for the sake of 'the economy'. There is no 'wrong end' to grasp.
Waiting for detailed proposals and consequently having a much truncated time frame to organise a debate will ensure less opposition to the plans.

Mining and development companies unfortunately hold the cards in terms of swaying opinion in the early stages as they can say what they may do, and infer the benefits to the populace, at will. Bodies such as the LDNP cannot comment until the plans are submitted. This is also occurring in the North York Moors NP with the potash mining application ( albeit a smaller scale than this one in the Lakes).
4) Anonymous User
Document 285 on the MRWS website confirms that Ennerdale is one of the 3 sites in the running to be a dump for the UKs nuclear waste. Unfortunately it looks to be the most likely candidate, based on proximity to Sellafield. I can't believe that this most beautiful and tranquil valley could be the site for this. My first experience of the Lakes was walking the Coast to Coast through a rain soaked Ennerdale - well it was August! Despite the weather I fell in love with Ennerdale and the Lakes.

Please don't stand by and let this happen to the last piece of real wilderness in England.
5) Anonymous User
"So far the National Park Authority has not taken a definitive position on a below ground repository as they do not know the facts and risks in detail." Judging by the tone of this article the BMC clearly thinks it knows better then? The BMC should be representing the views of its members, not unashamedly attempting to manipulate them as it is here. The manner in which this article approaches the subject puts me off signing that petition.
6) Anonymous User
This is one of the worst cases of ill informed pseudo Journalism I have read in recent years. There is no balance to the argument, nor review of the actual challenges or benefits that will apply. It appears to be regurgitation of pressure groups literature. There is no mention of the greater than 70% local approval for hosting this projet.

In any event when did the BMC's remit extend to political pressure on national concerns which are not related to access for climbing/mountaineering. Please remove this report and campaign from your website. This BMC member does not support this position.
7) Anonymous User
The radioactive inventory currently stored at Sellafield in decaying and vulnerable conditions represents one of the highest hazards in Western Europe. Political indecision regarding the fate of this waste since the 1950s has led to a backlog which threatens the entire nuclear decommissioning process. Independent of political opinions regarding the building or use of nuclear power this is the situation in which we find ourselves and it is the situation with which we have to deal with. The risk of not doing so is the potential release of part of this radioactive inventory over north western England and Southern Scotland. It is the democratic responsibility of UK citizens to ensure that this issue is addressed as soon as reasonably possible. It is our responsibility to ensure this issue is adressed and not left as a legacy to future generations as it was to us - to block the construction of appropriate disposal facilities is to doe exactly that.

The incumbent Democratically Elected Government (in 2007) authorised the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management conducted a review of potential disposal options that concluded that deep geological disposal was the most appropriate option for disposal (there was consultation). Rather than the Nirex Policy of foisting this of a cummunity there has been a call for voulenteer communites to come forward. This has been by the democratically elected representatives of those communities. This process is ongoing though a recent MORI poll has indicted a 68% approval to continue the search in West Cumbria (

The issue of building a repository in the Lake District National Park will always be emotive, however if it is in the best interests of safeguarding the health of our and future generations by putting radioactive waste out of harms way it must be considered. We're not talking about mineral exploitation, or commercial gain, this is about doing what is right for ourselves, future generations and other inhabitants of this planet. To block or rule out such an option which will have only temporary impact to Lake District Scenery on the basis of our leisure requirements is selfish beyond belief.
8) Anonymous User
It would be nice if the BMC had checked this article for (1) spelling, and (2) factual accuracy, before issuing it - or indeed, perhaps not issuing it, for the reasons already outlined by several posters on this page. Why should we be expected to believe the poorly informed writing of someone incapable of spelling 'geology'?!
9) Anonymous User
The BMC risks losing influence if it peddles articles such as this. Unbalanced and simply wrong. Example, second sentence. "the installation would store intensely hot and highly radioactive spent fuel deep underground." intensely hot here seems to infer temperature, material can be described as hot or radioactive given it means the same thing in this context!!
People will simply laugh......
why does the article not also highlight the problem we need to solve ( a big pond full or radioactive material we need to dispose of - a completely different problem to who is a fault!! ).
10) Anonymous User
To whoever said it has 70% support couldn't be more wrong.
I live locally, went to the public meeting in Ennerdale, which voted 150 - 1 against it.
The opposition isn't anti-nuclear .... it is just anti-unsafe-burying.
West Cumbria has one of the most studied geologies in the world.
In the 1990's, the Government spent £400M on the Nirex study, looking for somewhere to bury nuclear waste. The local councils opposed it, on the grounds of safety. Fast-forward 16 years - the council has changed but the geology hasn't. The Leader of the council decided to 'volunteer' Copeland (the borough containing Ennerdale) without any proper democratic consultation. She is attracted by the compensation scheme. The MP is a cheerleader for it, claiming that it is essential for the economic future of the area (ultimately it'll generate maybe 50 or so local jobs - peanuts), and he now says it'll be good for tourism, because it'll be good for the Lake District brand.
The next stage will require geophysical investigation - which will totally wreck Ennerdale.

So yes, nuclear waste needs to go somewhere: but it should go to the safest place, not the most politically pliable .... and certainly not where it will desecrate a National Park.
11) Anonymous User
This seems to be a remarkably ill informed article, so the request to sign the petition just looks like knee jerk reaction to me. This is not what I pay a subscription for!
12) Anonymous User
How can user 7 say it will have only temporary impact to Lake District Scenery?
A construction project of this size will last for years and years.
Ennerdale has many sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation and important archaeological sites (Bronze Age onwards) as well as being in a National Park. Should we sit back and let these be destroyed?
13) Anonymous User
I think there is a great deal of preconception and misconception regarding anything involving nuclear. An avid walker and climber; degree and post graduate qualified in environmental sciences; living in the Lakes; and, yes, following a career in the nuclear industry, I probably have as valid a view point as any.

Sellafield exists and yes it does have 60 years of accumulated legacy wastes. There are also a number of ex-generating stations and Defence related facilities around the UK with legacy wastes that need a home. Irrespective of the individual standpoint on nuclear (love it or loathe it), the key question to ask ourselves is

"is it right to leave legacy wastes in ageing facilities, increasing the risk to the workers and environment, or is it better to package it for long term storage (10,000 + years)?"

If we decide to package and store, is it better to move all the waste from Sellafield (by far the greatest volume) across the country to somewhere else, or to bring the significantly smaller volumes to the place with the highest concentration of Nuclear know-how in Europe?

I find it a bit hard to see how a facility 400m below Ennerdale (apparently the hight of the Eiffel tower for those that don't know what 400m looks like) will impact on the quiet enjoyment of my Sunday morning run around Ennerdale or when i'm climbing on Pillar rock, as the tunnel sounds like it will come from Sellafield, therefore there is no local impact.

We can't magic the past away, we just have to deal with it. As somebody that has to live next door to the legacy, i'm a lot happier if it is dealt with in a repository.

14) Anonymous User
When finished the waste may go to the GDF via a tunnel from Sellafield. It's the construction process that will be damaging. A construction site the size of Sellafield at Gillerthwaite and continuous heavy traffic from there taking the spoil away doesn't sound like 'no local impact' to me.
15) Anonymous User
Let the experts do their job, they know more about it.
16) Anonymous User
User 7 thinks the recent MORI poll was democratic. It was actually a telephone poll and no one in the Ennerdale area was contacted, furthermore the decision making such as it was, was conducted in relative secrecy. I live in Ennerdale and am therefore in the donated host community and was horrified when I found out about the MRWS intentions just before Christmas. The Ennerdale community have deliberately been kept in the dark, why do you suppose that was?
Any suggestions that putting the waste in a GDF is for the good of future generations is naive, the geology is porous, Ennerdale Lake is the water source for the surrounding communities and in time the contamination will seep into the water table. Once the repository is filled and sealed for ever, it is beyond future developing decommissioning technologies. There has been no consideration given to above ground storage where the inventory can be monitored and maintained in a controlled environment. Just burying waste does not make it go away although some may consider it the easy option.
17) Anonymous User
User 6 get a life and lose your ego. Sometimes you have to extend your mind and recognise the dangers, remember the mass trespass which eventually gave rise to the National Parks in the Uk' John Muir who forced the birth of the American National Parks. If we give in to political pressure we could loose our rights to the great outdoors, apathy is always the easy way out.
18) Anonymous User
There is a protest walk at Ennerdale on Sat 26th Jan 11.30 for 12 o'clock start. Come along and see what's in danger, get informed. Details on or Facebook & Twitter
19) Anonymous User
As a Cumbrian who loves these mountains, I believe the BMC needs to take a stance and actively campaign against anything that threatens the beauty of the Lake District mountains, for the sake of future generations. Ennerdale is very much on the map for this facility. I also quote from the briefing in Westminster on 13 January 2013 "In previous investigations, Nirex excluded areas in the National Park but in the current criteria, these have been retained for now. It is important to be clear that areas of outstanding natural beauty have been left in and considered as areas that are potentially suitable."
The scale of the facility if it is developed in the Lake District, is the size of a small city; there will need to be massive security around it and it will need major access roads to transport the waste.
Remember John Muir.
Remember the courageous actions and mass trespasses undertaken to secure freedom to roam.
What sort of legacy do we want to leave the next generations of walkers and climbers?
In this exceptionally beautiful National Park.
20) Anonymous User
This is NOT only a rumour! Ennerdale is the most likely site for the repository and even the exploration stage will cause repairable damage to the valley. A major road will be built to well beyond the lake,(where there is only a track at present) and numerous bore holes sunk. These will change the wild valley permanently even if the geology proves unsuitable. See The repository will be large enough to hold the city of York!
21) Anonymous User
Oh dear, another request from the BMC for us to object to development. This time is is not even based on fact, but conjecture. So the BMC is now anti wind farms, nuclear, HEP. I assume then the BMC supports coal and gas fired power stations? The organisation is becoming far too political which given that some people have to join in order to sign up to complete national governing body awards is out of order. The organisation appears to take it mandate from the few rather than the silent majority.


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