Three councils in Cumbria were to have announced this morning whether they wanted to host a nuclear waste dump. Instead, they decided... not to decide just yet. It's a welcome stay of execution - but this plan should never have been given a second thought.
As I wrote back in July, the government is very keen to dig a very large hole in Cumbria and bury radioactive waste in it. The three affected councils were to have decided whether to opt in or out, but at the eleventh hour they wrote to the government, asking for a delay of three months.
They cited several reasons, including that all the evidence shows that Cumbria's geology is entirely unsuitable for storing nuclear waste. (That's not quite how they put it, but there is no escaping the fact that Cumbria, with its complex geology and mountainous terrain, is the last place you'd want to build an underground nuclear wastes dump.)
I'm relieved that Cumbria County Council, and Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils, haven't yet volunteered to host a dump. But I'm puzzled, because the issues they raised are really important and three months isn't nearly enough time to resolve them.
You couldn't review the Cumbrian geology in three months, for example. Nor is it enough time for the government to pass a new law guaranteeing that the councils could withdraw at a later stage - another key issue of concern.
Other critical factors - like whether new nuclear is going ahead, and whether the government wants to dump the particularly hazardous new build wastes in Cumbria - won't be decided by January either.
So even with this delay, the three councils would have to base their decisions on the info they already have. As they say in their letter, they couldn't go ahead based on what they know at this stage - so why delay for such an arbitrarily short time? Why didn't they ask to put this whole process on hold until the government had addressed these issues - or just opt out of the dump altogether?
Cumbria deserves better than being the dumping ground for all our nuclear waste. A stay of execution is good - but the only sensible option is to reject the dump entirely.