The UK’s long-term waste management process took a major divergent step today as England, Wales and Northern Ireland began a deep repository consultation while Scotland stated it would continue with surface storage.

The Westminster government, along with the governments of Wales and Northern Ireland, launched the consultation on how a repository site will be chosen for “higher activity” waste.

It seeks views on repository design and build, as well as the process and criteria to be used in deciding where a repository would be located.

UK environment minister Ian Pearson claimed the repository process is “an entirely new approach” based on communities volunteering.

But the Scottish government ruled out deep disposal, saying it would not endorse the consultation process and allow deep disposal in Scotland.

The Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment, Richard Lochhead, recognised that dealing with legacy waste is a significant challenge but said: “The Scottish government does not accept that geological disposal is the right way forward. This is a matter of principle for us and I have no doubt that public opinion in Scotland supports our view.”

He went on to express support for the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management recommendations on interim storage and said further research was needed on long-term management options.

Lochhead felt it was not right to expect a community to host a repository. “This out of sight out of mind policy should not extend to Scotland,” he said.

The Scottish government stated it will not be involved in any further work progressing geological disposal but will support long-term “near-surface, near-site” waste management, which allows monitoring and retrieval without significant transport.