Communities will be offered up to £2.5 million per annum if they agree to seriously explore hosting a nuclear waste disposal site, under government plans announced yesterday.

The BEIS department has unveiled the incentives as part of a new framework for encouraging the creation of new radioactive waste disposal sites.

The government is looking for communities prepared to host the underground facilities which will be used to house solid radioactive waste.

Up to £1 million per annum will be made available for communities that take part in the early stage of the geological disposal facility (GDF) siting process, says the document. This will rise to up to £2.5m per year for those communities where investigative boreholes are sunk to assess the potential suitability of sites.

The incentives mirror those on offer in communities that host fracking operations.

Disposal sites will have to be geologically stable so that the waste can be contained on a long-term basis from the surface environment. The GDFs will be located at least 200m underground and will consist of layers of steel, rock and clay in order to prevent leakage of radioactive material.

The facilities will be expected to safely contain the waste for the ‘thousands’ of years that it will take some to decay.
Government estimates that up to 600 skilled jobs will be created at each disposal site, rising to more than 1,000 during construction process. It has said it has a strong preference for a single disposal facility.

The new package, which includes a national planning statement to help determine the location of new facilities, has been launched after Cumbria County Council withdrew a bid to host one in 2013.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr branded the funding offer a bribe. He said: “Having failed to find a council willing to have nuclear waste buried under their land, ministers are resorting to the tactics from the fracking playbook – bribing communities and by-passing local authorities.

“With six new nuclear plants being planned, the waste problem is just going to get much worse. Since there is no permanent solution for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, the responsible thing to do would be to stop producing more of it instead of just passing the radioactive buck to future generations.”

He said that ministers should focus instead on developing cheaper renewable energy generation.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the government’s proposals will place communities at the centre of the process for identifying nuclear waste disposal sites.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said that new disposal facilities were ‘imperative’ given the government’s commitment to a new fleet of nuclear power stations.

But he warned that ministers faced a tough challenge winning the public’s trust on the issue. He said: “The only approach that stands a chance of succeeding is absolute openness – and one hopes that this will indeed be the approach, because the waste can’t be wished out of existence.”