MPs have backed government moves to allow nuclear waste disposal sites in national parks and other protected landscapes.
The House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee has approved new planning guidance for the underground facilities.
The government believes the geological disposal infrastructure (GDI) is needed to store on a long-term basis the radioactive waste set to be created by the 16 to 18GW of new nuclear generating capacity currently being planned.
The government has asked local communities to volunteer to host the facilities, which will each have an operational life of 150 years, after previous attempts to designate sites was abandoned in the face of grassroots opposition.
The committee, which was asked by the government to provide the parliamentary scrutiny for the national policy statement (NPS), endorses the government’s view that it should not rule out locations for housing the facilities, such as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
It says such areas already have high levels of protection against inappropriate development.
“Existing planning legislation and the NPS contain sufficient safeguards against intrusive developments and environmental damage in national parks and AONBs, particularly because any development requires community consent.
“We agree with the government that a site could conceivably be designed in a way that would be acceptable to communities, preserve the benefits of national parks and AONBs and avoid any surface facility in conservation areas.
“Successive governments have for too long left it for future generations to find a solution to dispose safely of higher activity radioactive waste. It is time for a decision.”
The MPs also reject a proposal by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) that environmental factors should be given more weighting than safety and security when judging GDI applications.
The CNP and the Campaign to Protect Rural England warned that the committee’s report has put some of the country’s most treasured landscapes under the threat of “inappropriate and major” development that would cause “irreversible damage”.
Ruth Bradshaw, CNP’s policy and research manager, said: “The decision not to recommend excluding national parks and AONBs as possible locations also goes against the government’s ambitions for these areas as set out in the 25-year environment plan.
“The proposed nuclear storage facility is completely contrary to the purposes of national parks and we are extremely disappointed that the committee has failed to recognise this.”