A PUBLIC consultation to decide whether West Cumbria should volunteer to house the country’s nuclear waste has sparked widespread debate.

Copeland and Allerdale Council’s have expressed an interest in having a £12 million radioactive waste disposal facility built underground in the districts – the only local authorities in the country to have put themselves forward.

This week the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership (MRWS), which includes local councils, Cumbria Tourism, the National Farmers’ Union and Churches Together, began displays across the county as part of a consultation to decide whether West Cumbria should be a ‘host community’ for nuclear waste.

The Government has been advised by an independent group of experts that placing the waste underground in a purpose-built repository is the best way to deal with waste generated since the 1940s – as well as future waste.

But there are concerns that such a facility – which would be up to a kilometre under-ground – would be unsafe.

Radiation Free Lakeland believes that a nuclear dump would be a ‘blight’ on agriculture and tourism in Cumbria.

And it claims that the scheme is a ‘cunning plan’ by the Governement to keep the nuclear agenda on track.

Save Our Lake District claims that ‘little or no work’ has been done on the environ-mental or economic aspects of the proposal.

The group believes that a respository would have a negative impact on house and land prices and ‘badly’ affect communities.

At a public meeting in Kendal Town Hall on Monday residents expressed concern about how radioactive waste would be checked once it had been buried.

Mary Macpherson, of Sed-bergh, said: “ I am not happy about the idea of putting a vast quantity of radioactive material underground and filling it up so that it can’t be checked. There should be a referendum in Cumbria about it.”

But Maggie Scott, from Kendal, said: “We have nuc-lear waste in the county at the moment and so I am not against the waste being put underground where it would be safer. But if we are going to have it in Cumbria we should get financial benefits.”

Richard Greenwood, of Cumbria Tourism, said the group was looking at the impact a respository could have on the £2billion tourism industry.

“We are looking what the potential downsides would be if we had a repository in West Cumbria,” he said.

Allan Ellis, of the Nuclear Decommisioning Authority, told the meeting: “It is not urgent but it is important. We need a long-term solution for radioactive waste generated since the 1940s.”

Tony Robinson, Cumbria Association of Local Councils, said: “There will be trans-formational social and economic benefits for West Cumbria should it have a repository.”

He said that the partnership was working on a set of community benefits which it would put to the Government should West Cumbria put itself forward as a ‘host’.

Marilyn Tahernia, of Kendal, a campaigner against nuclear power, said having a radioactive dump in Cumbria was a ‘bad idea’ because the area had heavy rainfall and suffered several minor earthquakes each year.

“The whole area is unsuitable and it is frightening – a dangerous concept,” she said.

But independent geologist Jeremy Delone said he did not believe that heavy rainfall or earthquakes would cause radioactive waste to rise or get into the water courses.