The government's long-term hopes of burying nuclear waste in the UK has suffered a major blow after Cumbria county council voted against plans for a 12bn underground site.

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Three local authorities - Cumbria county council, Allerdale borough council and Copeland borough council - were set to vote on the search for a site, which would have been the first of its kind in the UK.

First approval, then rejection

Earlier today Copeland borough councillors voted six-to-one in favour of moving to onto the next stage of the search process. But Cumbria county council took an opposing view, rejecting the proposals by seven votes to three, and in the process ending the county council's four-year formal involvement in the consultation process.

"As a decision to continue with the process needed the agreement of both the district and county councils, Cumbria county council's decision has removed both districts from consideration," councillors said in a statement. The vote triggered huge cheers from environmental campaigners outside the council chamber in Carlisle.

Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said the decision was "disappointing". He vowed that it would not halt plans for nuclear waste disposal, despite international concern that the wild western fringes of the Lake District would be damaged by prospecting crews, drilling and fellside roads, even at the earliest stages of research.

"We are clear that nuclear power should play a key role in our future energy mix, as it does today. I am confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful, and that the decisions made in Cumbria today will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations.

"It is however absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy. The issue has been kicked into the long grass for far too long."

More than 32,000 people had signed a petition against the £12bn underground storage facility.

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Spotlight now on Sellafield

However, the issue of how to handle nuclear waste remains live in Cumbria.

Sellafield's nuclear storage facilities remain the largest in the UK, and the ten members of the county council's cabinet also agreed that the council will encourage the Government to invest in improvements to the existing surface storage facilities at the site while a permanent solution for the country's higher activity radioactive waste is found.

Campaigners victory

Campaigners argued the underground dump would harm the Lake District national park and its tourism industry. They also claim that studies show Cumbria's geology is unlikely to be safe for radioactive waste.

West Cumbria Friends of the Earth campaigner Ruth Balogh said: "We're delighted at this decision. The problem of radioactive waste is a national problem. Cumbria should never have been proposed to shoulder this burden. We're also pleased the council have asked for attention on the interim storage of waste, which has been neglected."

Greenpeace energy campaigner Leila Deen said: "This decision represents yet another major blow for the Government's attempts to force the construction of costly nuclear power plants. Even the Prime Minister admits we need a plan to store waste before we can build a single new plant.

"This decision shows that dumping waste in uncertain geology near one of the country's most pristine national parks is not a solution.

"Ministers must now re-consider their nuclear ambitions and turn their attention instead to clean, sustainable and renewable ends."

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