Survey published on a possible nuclear waste repository in West Cumbria

The results of a large representative opinion survey to find out if people in West Cumbria are in favour of taking part in the Government’s search for a suitable site for a repository for higher-activity radioactive waste have been published.

Polling company Ipsos MORI surveyed more than 3,000 resident adults in Cumbria on behalf of the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership.

The results show that 51% of people in the area covered by Allerdale Borough Council supported taking part in the search for a suitable site for a deep underground disposal facility for higher activity radioactive waste compared with 37% who were opposed.  4% said they were neutral and 8% said they did not know.

In the area covered by Copeland Borough Council 68% of people supported taking part in the search for a suitable site for a deep underground disposal facility for higher activity radioactive waste compared with 23% who were opposed.  4% said they were neutral and 5% said they did not know.

The Partnership has said it is particularly concerned to find out whether people in the Allerdale and Copeland areas are in favour or opposed to taking part in the search for a site, as this is where a repository could be located. The poll is therefore important because it will help to gauge whether there is support in these areas for taking part in the search for a repository site, albeit without any commitment to ultimately have a facility.

However, people in other parts of Cumbria were also surveyed as part of the poll so the Partnership could get an indication of views in surrounding areas.

In the rest of Cumbria 50% of people said they supported Allerdale and/or Copeland taking part in the search for a site for a repository compared with 35% who were opposed.  5% said they were neutral and 10% said they did not know.

If the area does decide to participate in this process, there would be extensive testing of geology and other factors.  It could take around 15 years to find out if there is a suitable site.  Local people would also continue to be involved and the Councils would have the right to withdraw while this work is taking place.

Cllr Tim Knowles, the current Chair of the Partnership and the Cabinet member for the environment on Cumbria County Council, said: “We would like to thank people for taking part in this important opinion survey.  We have always made it clear that the views of local people are extremely important in this process.

“Partnership members will now need to consider the results of this survey alongside the responses to the separate consultation which we have carried out.  A final report will then be sent to the Councils who will make the decision about whether to take part in the search for a site.” 

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative cross-section of the local population in Allerdale (over 1,000 people), in Copeland (over 1,000 people) and in the rest of Cumbria (over 1,000 people) by telephone between 8 March and 16 May 2012.

As well as commissioning one of the country’s leading polling companies to conduct the representative survey the Partnership also commissioned two independent experts on polling to provide additional advice on the survey and the methodology for carrying it out.

The survey results were published at a Partnership meeting at Whitehaven Civic Hall on Tuesday 22 May.  Partnership members were also considering the 1,400 written responses to the consultation which ran from 21 November 2011 to 23 March 2012. 

The Partnership currently expects to produce a final report this summer.  This will then be sent to the three local authorities that will make a formal decision about whether to take part in the search for a site – Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council.  

A representative poll was used rather than a referendum because the Partnership concluded that at this stage not enough information is known about where a repository may be sited and therefore on key issues such as safety, geology and community benefits.  If the area was to participate in the search, it is possible that a public referendum could be held at a later stage when more information is available.

The Partnership is made up of representatives of all the local authorities in the county as well as organisations such as the National Farmers’ Union, Cumbria Tourism, the Lake District National Park Authority and the Cumbria Association of Local Councils.  It has spent over three years gathering information, commissioning research and asking questions in order to find out more about what taking part in the search for site would mean for the area.

Further details about the poll will be available on the Partnership’s website – www.westcumbriamrws.org.uk

For updates from the Partnership you can also follow them on Twitter @westcumbriamrws

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