Hartlepool has been identified as a potential host site for a multi-billion pound underground store for all of the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste in a development called a Geological Disposal Facility.
Public organisation Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) is leading the project to find a willing community and development of the facility on behalf of the Government.
Presentations have been held on behalf of RWM by Hartlepool community organisation The Wharton Trust and no specific site has been identified.
But both they and Radioactive Waste Management have come out and said it will not be forced on the town after political leaders – including Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Hartlepool Council Leader Cllr Shane Moore – spoke out against it.
In the facility, nuclear waste sealed in concrete and copper would be buried in a network of tunnels 1,000 metres (3,280ft) underground until the radioactivity naturally decays and no longer poses a hazard to people or the environment.
RWM head of siting Steve Reece said: "RWM is currently talking to several interested parties across England about the issues and opportunities of hosting a Geological Disposal Facility.
"We remain open to talking about this project and the great opportunities for a host community. But we would not be pushing the project if there is no local appetite.”
Mr Reece said the project is worth billions of pounds and would create thousands of jobs for multiple generations as well as significant investment to the host area.
Sacha Bedding, chief executive of The Wharton Trust, added Hartlepool could receive £1m a year just from holding talks with project bosses, rising to £2.5m a year if it progressed to the next stage of drilling boreholes to test the rocks.
He said: “Ultimately, we the people decide whether or not we want to host that after having all those conversations and additional investment that will flow into the town.”
But Mayor Houchen said: “For as long as I am mayor, I will fight tooth and nail to not allow our amazing region to become a dumping ground for nuclear waste”.
He added: “I’ve already taken steps to speak with Government and have informed them that this is not wanted in Hartlepool and never will be.”
Mayor Houchen said it was the last thing the region needs as the combined authority looks to sell itself to the world.
Cllr Shane Moore said: “I want to be absolutely clear with residents that I do not support Radioactive Waste Management’s (RWM) proposal to create a site for the disposal of nuclear waste here in Hartlepool.
“I am not prepared to be the council leader that started the ball rolling to turn my hometown into the nuclear waste dump of the United Kingdom and frankly I don’t care how many pieces of silver are being offered."
Mr Bedding said the term “nuclear dumping” was “emotive nonsense”, adding there is a moral responsibility to deal with the issue.
He said: “The best scientific minds in the country and world are saying long term deep underground storage is the safest place for this.”