A NEW search to find a community willing to host an underground nuclear waste storage bunker is based on 'fundamentally flawed' government policy, council officials in Cumbria have said.

The nationwide scheme to identify a location for a £12 billion geological disposal facility buried at least 200 metres below the surface was relaunched by the government in January and is expected to take 20 years to secure.

It promises incentives including £1m per year for five years for the five communities that volunteer to be on the shortlist - with £2.5m a year for the two that go forward to the testing stage, which would see deep boreholes dug underground.

But experts within Cumbria County Council have instead called for more clarity on how the high level waste - the majority of which is currently kept in storage vessels in west Cumbria - will be kept safe if a suitable location is not identified within the time frame.

They also state the right of willing communities to withdraw from the process is not clear enough within the proposal, while there is no detail about how the waste could be retrieved at a later date if new technology to dispose of it more efficiently is developed.

The authority's official response, expected to be adopted by members of its cabinet committee in Carlisle today, states: "The county council believes the policy on which this consultation is based is fundamentally flawed.

"There is no detail in the consultation about how and what is planned for this current waste to ensure it is safe.

"There is also no detail provided about what will happen if no volunteer community is found within the 20 year period required to prepare for a GDF.

"Having a plan B for the safe storage of this waste during the 15 to 20 year period the government estimate this process, to identify and select a site, will take is vital.

"The waste is still in situ and needs safe surface or near surface storage facilities in the intervening time, which cannot be of a sub-standard quality."

It adds: "The proposal for the right of withdrawal is currently articulated in language that is ambiguous and could easily be misunderstood.

"A clear explanation is required as to what this means in practice."

Once a location is secured, the waste would be entombed in a highly engineered structure made up of multiple layers of steel, rock and clay to provide protection while some of the waste remains radioactive - a process that is expected to take thousands of years.

It would be buried between 200 and 1,000 metres below ground covering an area of 10 to 20 square kilometres, with a series of sealed or filled tunnels leading to it.

Above ground, there would be buildings for the receipt and handling of the waste. The facility would be expected to be operational for 100 or more years.

Previous discussions surrounding the potential location of such a facility in Cumbria were abandoned in 2013 after Cumbria County Council withdrew from the process.

Opposition groups across the area claimed the county was not suitable for such a storage facility because of its faulted geology and water.