Before breaking up for their summer, the government revealed how it planned to complete its search for a suitable site at which to store the UK’s nuclear waste. They could put it anywhere, under the sink, behind the dresser….under the lake district national park (where they’ve always wanted to put it, but long denied this fact), anywhere really! Needless to say including a line in such a report that specifically mentions a particular site doesn’t exactly give confidence its going to be unbiased.
And the thing is we’ve been here many times before. As I discussed in a previous post, the UK government were so confident about the safety of their nuclear technology that they pushed it into a remote part of Cumbria and well away from London and the country estates of the upper class. And they’d rather keep it all there for the same reason. The trouble with this is that the locals, whose main industry is tourism, kind of don’t want to see a nuclear waste dump built under one of the UK’s favourite national parks.
Various studies have been done before and while they’ve reached many different conclusions about where the best place to site such a facility, generally the consensus would be that Cumbria, while a potential site yes, it won’t be the best option. Other alternatives include parts of Scotland, Wales, the home counties and the Midlands.
Of course while these might be acceptable sites from a geological stand point they are unacceptable from a political point of view, as you’d be upsetting so many marginal seats (as well as the devolved assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh who will almost certainly say no) as to guarantee the Tories will never get a majority government again. So really this process is about finding somewhere that is politically acceptable first, then trying to find the evidence to justify this decision.
Its all very reminiscent of the Yucca mountain fiasco in America. Back in the late 80’s the Reagan administration decided to dump America’s nuclear waste under a mountain in the Nevada test site. Why? Because it was a desert in the middle of nowhere in a state populated by hick’s, hillbillies, conspiracy theorists and gambling addicts. It was also so safely republican you could end up in a hole in the desert for just voting democrat.
Well a couple of decades later, when the time came to follow through on this decision Nevada was now a swing state. And it turned out the locals did actually care and were prepared to kick up stink about the whole thing. At one point the state capital cut of water supplies to the Yucca mountain site. After the 2008 election, with Nevada senator Harry Reid in a key position to potentially block legislation, the whole thing was finally put out of its misery, although it has recently been resurrected by Trump (probably more to get back at Nevada for offending his ego and voting against him than a genuine desire concern about nuclear waste).
So its very easy to see how history could repeat itself. The Tories put their sleuths to work who scour every inch of the country asking where or where will we put this nuclear waste. Then conclude, ah feck it! we’ll just chuck it over the fence from Sealfield. Because, by a remarkable coincidence, its the best site for it. Seriously, scouts honour! The locals will kick up stink of course, hiring their own experts to pick apart the government’s position line by line, but of course they’ll be ignored and railroaded over. So they’ll lie down in front of bulldozers, fight the plan through the courts and elect anti-government politicians (likely Green party or single issue candidates), until eventually its no longer politically convenient to continue. And it gets cancelled, while in the mean time nothing gets done and we’ve wasted 20 years.
As always I do want to see a long term solution to the UK’s nuclear waste issues, but that means finding a solution that’s going to work, not something hastily cobbled together to save the blushes of politicians. Not least because if a facility is pushed through in such circumstances for all the wrong reasons, then its equally likely it will be cancelled at some future date, so the next generation of politicians can save face.
And it is this constant helicopter parenting that is what puts me off nuclear energy. In fact they are starting to transcend helicopter parenting for snow plough parenting. Consider how the government recently announced they were cancelling the Swansea bay tidal barrage on grounds of cost….even though it will cost about a tenth of what Hinkley C is going to cost. Or how we have seen some significant progress recently in wave & tidal energy research, on a shoestring budget, with almost no help from Westminster.
The little spoiled brat nuclear encounters the slightest obstacle and the government bends over backwards, signing blank cheque after blank cheque. They’ll literally move mountains for their little darling. But when anyone else asks from a few penny’s, oh sorry there’s no magic money trees.