The Government yesterday challenged local authorities to come forward with sites for the burial of nuclear waste – and offered financial rewards for councils if they co-operated.

Environment Secretary David Miliband signalled the start of the search for the best place to build a deep underground bunker to store Britain’s nuclear waste.

Mr Miliband said he had accepted the recommendation of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management that the waste from Britain’s nuclear reactors should be dealt with through "geological disposal".

The decision is bound to raise speculation about the prospect of nuclear dumping in Warwickshire. As reported in The Birmingham Post, 12 sites in the county have been identified as possible burial grounds by nuclear waste management firm Nirex, including land near the Hams Hall business park in North Warwickshire.

Warwickshire County Council has pledged to fight any proposal to bury nuclear waste in the county.

Mr Miliband said the Government would adopt a "voluntarist and partnership approach" in looking for a suitable site and would not seek to impose the storage facility on any unwilling community.

He held out the inducement of lucrative "community packages" for those councils which were prepared to come forward with the offer of a suitable location.

The new bunker, which will take "several decades" to construct, will be sunk some 200 to 1,000 metres underground and will have an estimated capacity of 470,000 cubic metres.

The chosen location will have to be in an area where the rock structure provides a barrier against radioactive leakage.

Mr Miliband said the Government intended to build interim storage facilities capable of holding waste for up to 100 years while the bunker was being constructed.

The whole programme - which is a key element of the Government’s future energy strategy to build a new generation of nuclear power stations - will be handled by the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.

Mr Miliband is to invite local authorities around the country to come forward with possible sites. "The circumstances surrounding the long terms disposal of higher activity radioactive waste are unique," he said.

"We have made it clear that we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community. In this context, we are strongly supportive of exploring the concept of voluntarism and partnership arrangements with local authorities serving communities who might be affected."

Paul Bettison, chairman of the Local Government Association’s environment board, said: "With this category of waste there are only a limited number of suitable sites and we must ensure that no national body railroads over the interests of local people."

Friends of the Earth called for a complete re-think of energy policy.