Australian news, and some related international items

UK struggles with the burden of storing radioactive waste indefinitely

The most important immediate step required is to stop producing any more waste as soon as possible.

Indefinite storage would represent a burden for future generations. There would be a significant cost associated with the safe and secure storage of higher activity radioactive waste. In addition, for the long time periods for which waste is radioactive, there would be wider ongoing risks and responsibilities associated with surface storage (e.g. from terrorism or the impacts of climate change).

the proposals appear to weaken the power of county councils making it harder for them to prevent a community from agreeing to host the GDF.

What about the hundreds of miles of ‘affected communities along road and rail routes from radioactive waste stores, to any centralised repository? Are these communities going to be ignored?

Right of Withdrawal Cumbria Trust says it has serious concerns about the right of withdrawal in the new consultation. It appears that areas which volunteer are potentially trapped within the process for up to 20 years.

Implementing Geological Disposal   nuClear News reported in nuClear News No.104, the UK Government has launched two consultations on proposals to develop a nuclear waste repository.

 (1) The first consultation seeks views on how communities should be engaged in a siting process for a Geological Disposal Facility for higher activity radioactive waste.

 (2) (A category of waste which includes: high-level vitrified waste, intermediate level waste, and spent nuclear fuel). The proposals build on commitments set out in the 2014 White Paper ‘Implementing Geological Disposal’, in which the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive jointly set out an approach based on working with communities in England and Northern Ireland that are willing to participate in the siting process for a geological disposal facility.

(3) The policy proposals being consulted on here apply to England and Northern Ireland only but anyone from across the UK can respond. Responses are requested by 19th April Email to: Write to: GDF Team 3rd Floor, Victoria 1 Victoria Street London

Community Investment Fund Communities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be offered up to £1m a year to volunteer to host an underground nuclear waste disposal facility for thousands of years. The financial incentive – or bribe – is one way the government hopes to encourage communities to volunteer after previous efforts failed in 2013 when Cumbria county council rejected the project. The payments would rise to up to £2.5m annually as deep investigative boreholes are drilled. (4) The Times says over 20 years this could add up to £42m – £1 million a year for about five years, rising to £2.5 million a year for 10-15 years while boreholes were drilled to investigate whether the geology was suitable. (5)

On the other hand paragraph 4.61 of the Consultation Document uses the phrase “up to” £1m and “up to” £2.5m. Local Authorities will need more certainty about how the exact level of socalled “community investment funding” is to be decided. Paragraph 4.69 says “community investment funding, could be used to focus on issues or themes that may increase the ability of local businesses and members of the community to benefit from a geological disposal facility development.” This seems a bit odd as any money invested would be wasted if the area decided not to go ahead with a GDF or the area proves unsuitable. This type of investment should surely be a job for the “Additional Investment” discussed below.

Additional Investment Paragraph 4.62 says “the Government will provide additional investment to the community that hosts a geological disposal facility, to help to maximise the significant economic benefits that are inherent in hosting a nationally significant infrastructure project. This additional investment will be significant – comparable to other, international geological disposal facility projects, and capable of generating intergenerational benefits specific to the community that hosts a geological disposal facility. This is in addition to any agreements between the delivery body and communities to mitigate impacts during construction, and the engagement funding provided by the delivery body to facilitate community engagement in the siting process.”

 But no details are given, and no idea of the amount which might be available. Tim Knowles, who chaired the search process in Cumbria, known as the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership, has highlighted the government’s history of underfunding Cumbria’s infrastructure, so that promises of substantial community benefits were treated with understandable scepticism during the last process. This was one of the main reasons that Cumbria County Council decided to withdraw from the previous process. (6)

The Role of County Councils In the Foreword to “Working with Communities”, Energy Minister Richard Harrington says:

“Previous attempts to find a site for geological disposal have not been successful [they] were not able to secure and sustain the necessary level of local support. These experiences illustrate the complexity of the challenge in working with a host community on the siting of such an important facility. The approach we are consulting on in this document builds on the lessons of previous attempts, as well as positive international examples.”

He goes on to say “that an open and transparent site selection process that engages constructively with willing communities provides a more robust basis for success. Similar waste disposal programmes based on these key principles are making good progress in countries like Finland, Sweden and France.”

The consultation says all local representative bodies, including all levels of local government (including the principal local authorities; county councils, unitary authorities and district councils) will need to have a voice in this process.

However, the proposals appear to weaken the power of county councils making it harder for them to prevent a community from agreeing to host the GDF. The consultation document says the final decision will be subject to a “test of public support”, which could be a local referendum. The right to vote in the referendum could be restricted to a small area around the proposed site. The decision on holding a referendum would be taken by a “community partnership” involving representatives from councils, businesses and community groups. (7)

It is proposed that a Community Partnership would be formed from organisations identified during formative engagement as important to the local area. The Community Partnership should also involve members from the delivery body. Members of the Community Partnership will be responsible for sharing information between the community and the delivery body and entering into dialogue with people more widely in the community about a geological disposal facility. Local Authorities will be concerned that a Potential Host Community (PHC) may be too small, both geographically and in terms of population numbers. The consultation document seems to suggest that a PHC could exclude many people within the same local authority area who have a clear interest in whether the project goes ahead or not. Paragraph 4.18 says a PHC may only be several electoral wards. Furthermore, these ward areas could be contained within one District, County, Combined Authority or Unitary authority or could cross more than one.

 What about the hundreds of miles of ‘affected communities along road and rail routes from radioactive waste stores, to any centralised repository? Are these communities going to be ignored? Why does the Government believe people living in these communities with multiple loads of radioactive materials coming past where they live for many decades do not deserve significant financial compensation too? (8)

Expressing an Interest  Local authorities may also be concerned about the idea that anyone can express an interest in initiating a search for a suitable site for a GDF. Paragraph 4.23 discusses this, but doesn’t make it very clear how this would work. It would be unfortunate if the Ministry of Defence or Forestry Commission was able to drag a community into a 20 year process against its better judgement.

 Right of Withdrawal Cumbria Trust says it has serious concerns about the right of withdrawal in the new consultation. It appears that areas which volunteer are potentially trapped within the process for up to 20 years. For all the talk of volunteers having a continuous right of withdrawal, the document paints a much darker picture of coercion and a supposed partnership where the real power rests with one party. Paragraph 5.8, for instance seems to suggest that even though a Community Partnership may include parish councillors and other community representatives, once the process has started, they will be powerless to withdraw if the local authority decides it wishes to continue. There could be a partnership of around 12 people, where the 2 or 3 representatives of the local authority can overrule the other 9 or 10 members and force the partnership to continue against their will. This sounds less like a partnership and more like a hostage situation.

Para 4.87 says there will only be one opportunity for a test of public support in each PHC. During the last MRWS process, there were several tests of public support before moving to the next stage to ensure that the public view was being represented. This time we have a process which potentially lasts for 20 years and during that time only one test of public support is allowed, and controlled by the local authority. This appears to be intended to take place at the end of the 20 year siting process. So once a local authority has volunteered, the community are in effect locked-in for 20 years if the local authority wishes to continue. During that time there is potential for very significant blight which may damage businesses, particularly those which rely on image such as tourism, and may make some properties unsaleable. It is clearly unworkable for there to be a single test of public support over such a long period.

It appears that this process has been designed to be easy to enter and extremely difficult to leave. Communities need to exercise extreme caution before volunteering. (9)

Interestingly, Tim Knowles no longer supports the idea of geological disposal of nuclear waste in Cumbria. He appears to be of the view that Cumbria does not have suitable geology, and that there are much better sites elsewhere in the country. Tim suggested that near surface secure interim storage may be a better solution and that this could be under the Sellafield site. The key difference between this and a GDF, is that these facilities are retrievable stores, typically around 30 metres below the surface, with a lifespan of 100-200 years, rather than deep permanent disposal sites, so geology is much less important. (10)

 National Policy Statement The second consultation is on a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) for Geological Disposal Infrastructure (GDF) which is intended to provide the framework for the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State to examine and make decisions on development consent applications for geological disposal infrastructure in England. (11)

National Policy Statements set out the need for particular Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), and are required, under the Planning Act 2008, to undergo a period of public consultation before they are published. This consultation applies to residents of England and Northern Ireland. (12) Responses to this consultation are also requested by 19th April to: By e-mail: Or write to: GDF Team 3rd Floor, Victoria 1 Victoria Street London SW1H0ET

This document is intended to set out the need for nationally significant infrastructure projects related to the geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste in England. It also provides planning guidance for promoters of such projects, and for the Planning Inspectorate and Secretary of State in their consideration of applications.

The first paragraph of the Executive Summary is highly contentious. It says: “There is a need for a permanent disposal solution for higher activity radioactive waste from a wide range of activities, including: waste from 60 years of nuclear generation and waste from new nuclear power stations; as well as waste from medical treatments, research, and defence activities. The government policy for geological disposal of this waste is based on an independent review by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM).”

The Government says the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended geological disposal as the best available option. But CoRWM also made important recommendations which have been ignored. It said, for instance that its “…recommendations are directed to existing and committed waste arisings … the political and ethical issues raised by the creation of more wastes are quite different from those relating to committed – and therefore unavoidable –wastes”.

 And in September 2007 CoRWM said: “To justify creating new spent fuel from an ethical point of view, there must be a management solution that is ethically sound, not just least bad. … In short, a solution that is ethically acceptable for dealing with existing spent fuel is not necessarily a solution that would be ethically acceptable for dealing with new or changed materials.”

According to Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, the radioactivity from existing waste (i.e. not including new reactors) is expected to be 4.8 million terabecquerels (TBq) in the year 2200. The waste inventory in 2200 after a 16GW programme of new reactors would be around 27.3 milllion TBq – almost a six-fold increase. Potential host local authorities have no way of knowing how much waste they are volunteering to accept. (13) The proposed 16GW nuclear programme could be followed by another generation of reactors or a string of Small Modular Reactors. And there will be questions over how much say will be given to adjacent local authorities impacted by waste being transported to a GDF.

So, in CoRWM’s view, whilst it might be necessary to search for a more permanent management solution for existing nuclear waste, it is not ethically sound, in the words of one former CoRWM member “to compound the problem by a new-build programme that will result in vastly increased radioactivity from spent fuel and other highly radioactive wastes …” (14)

 The most important immediate step required is to stop producing any more waste as soon as possible.

Draft NPS The draft NPS sets out the need to manage higher activity radioactive waste in the long term through the development of a geological disposal facility. The Secretary of State will assess applications for a proposed GDF on the basis that need has been demonstrated. It states that:

 “The development of geological disposal infrastructure is essential because it provides the best available practical means of ensuring the long-term safety and security of higher activity radioactive 5waste.” (15)

 The Government argues that the requirement for human monitoring, maintenance, rebuilding and repackaging and the constant protection from natural processes, environmental changes, and malicious attack means that it does not consider long-term storage to be a permanent solution. Higher activity radioactive waste needs to be isolated from people and the surface environment for periods of time that are very long in comparison with human lifespans but are short on geological timescales. It believes there is an ethical imperative to progress with the disposal of radioactive waste. As one of the generations that has benefitted from medical treatments, research, electricity and defence activities that have all produced radioactive waste, the UK Government believes it is the responsibility of this generation to dispose of this waste.

Indefinite storage would represent a burden for future generations. There would be a significant cost associated with the safe and secure storage of higher activity radioactive waste. In addition, for the long time periods for which waste is radioactive, there would be wider ongoing risks and responsibilities associated with surface storage (e.g. from terrorism or the impacts of climate change).

Those in favour of a GDF generally argue that we have a responsibility to future generations to deal with the issue of nuclear waste we have created now, rather than leaving it for them to clean up. But geological disposal does not claim to be able to isolate waste from the environment forever as you might expect. It relies on delaying its return to the surface for as long as possible. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the goal is to avoid “undue exposure to radiation of humans or the environment” and keeping any potential hazard to human health “acceptably low” over required periods of time. (16) The industry relies on being able to predict the stability of the geological and hydro-geological conditions over very long time-scales – millions of years – in order to be able to prove that radiation doses to humans in the distant future will be kept acceptably low. It is questionable whether our scientific understanding is sufficiently advanced to be able to predict the complex interactions going on in an underground nuclear waste dump and the impact on human health or the environment that far into the future.

Those opposed to a GDF argue that it would be better to leave future generations with a choice about what to do with nuclear waste rather than bequeathing a fait accompli which could turn out to be a leaking repository.

Prof Andrew Blowers, former member of CoRWM, writing in a letter to the Guardian said: “In 1976, Lord Flowers pronounced that there should be no further commitment to nuclear energy unless it could be demonstrated that long-lived highly radioactive wastes could be safely contained for the indefinite future. Ever since, efforts to find a suitable site for a geological disposal facility have been rejected by communities. There is, therefore, little evidence to support the government’s claim that “it is satisfied that effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from new nuclear power stations”. Deep disposal may be the eventual longterm solution but demonstrating a safety case, finding suitable geology and a willing community are tough challenges and likely to take a long time. The search for a disposal site diverts attention from the real solution for the foreseeable future, which is to ensure the safe and secure management of the unavoidable legacy wastes that have to be managed. It is perverse to compound the problem by a new-build programme that will result in vastly increased radioactivity from spent fuel and other highly radioactive wastes which will have to be stored indefinitely at vulnerable sites scattered around our coasts. A new-build programme would create an unmanageable and intolerable burden on communities into the far future. To suggest that a repository is the solution is in the realm of fantasy.” (17)

The Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates (NWAA) has produced a list of 100 issues which will need to be resolved before a safety case can begin to be demonstrated. (18) One of these issues – copper corrosion – is dealt with in the next article.

 Another important group of issues covered in the NWAA Issues Register concerns the large quantity of hydrogen gas likely to be produced by a disposal facility. Although this gas would not be radioactive, it would present a problem due to the large volumes involved and the resultant need to provide a release pathway in order to avoid a build-up of pressure. Such a release pathway would necessarily also provide an escape route for radionuclides. The provision of such an “escape route” is contrary to the notion of a disposal facility as a sequence of “barriers”. Despite the fact that the hydrogen problem has been recognised for over twenty years, it is still not clear whether a hydrogen “over-pressure” would lead to the opening of fractures and the resultant creation of fast migration pathways. Gas release would be determined by the interaction of a number of different processes. Although these processes are understood on an individual basis, their interaction is not.

RWM Ltd says this depends on the design of the engineered system and the characteristics of the surrounding rock. But this will be investigated at a later stage in the programme when potential candidate sites have been identified. (19)

New Reactors The Draft NPS also says the Government believes there is an urgent need for new electricity generation, including new nuclear power, for the UK to meet its climate change objectives:

 “It is Government policy that new nuclear power should be able to contribute as much as possible to the UK’s need for new capacity. New nuclear power stations will help to ensure a diverse mix of technology and fuel sources, which will increase the resilience of the UK’s energy supply.”

 The Government’s Overarching National Policy Statement on Energy (EN1), published in July 2011 was based on an analysis of the evidence outlining different ‘pathways’ to 2050 published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2010. EN-1 explains that “electricity generation may need to more than double” and so “the government therefore anticipates a substantial amount of new generation will be required.” Hence the need for new nuclear power stations.

However, by using more recent information from the DECC Calculator website, produced in 2014 – NOT the out of date DECC information on which EN-1 was based, which was published in 2010 – the Together Against Sizewell C Campaign (TASC) has devised non-nuclear pathways which more successfully achieve every single government energy policy objective than any of the government’s pathways. Moreover, TASC shows how new nuclear power stations will hamper the achievement of government energy policy objectives. The difference between the TASC pathways and the government pathways used to justify new nuclear stations include for instance:

  • All of the TASC pathways set home insulation at level 4 – meaning that 24 million homes will be properly insulated by 2050. Three government pathways, including the Government’s most cost effective option leave 6 million homes uninsulated and leaking heat and so with higher fuel bills.
  • All the TASC pathways make greater use of solar power in buildings than all of the government pathways – again reducing fuel bills.

The point regarding the doubling of demand for electricity by 2050 was repeatedly emphasised by the Government in 2010 and 2011. However none of the recent pathways published by the Government demonstrate anything approaching a doubling of consumption. The relevance of this change in circumstances is very clear: as the projected increase falls, so less new infrastructure (nuclear and otherwise) is needed. The increase in demand projected by the Government’s 2014 pathways ranged from 29.6% to 52.9%. And the potential for energy saving was not fully assessed by Government until after EN-1 had been approved. Over the past decade there has been a consumption revolution prompted by vastly improved electricity efficiency in industry, in consumer white and brown goods, and in areas like lighting, where household consumption has dropped from 20.7 TWh in 2007, to 19.3TWh by 2010 and by 2016 this was down to 14.2TWh. This trend is set to continue. By 2025 LEDs will probably have replaced most CFLs and incandescent light bulbs, and LEDs themselves are becoming more efficient.

 In short, the draft NPS on Geological Disposal is based on a false premise – there is no “need” for new nuclear power stations. Energy efficiency has already reduced electricity consumption by 30% compared with what it was expected to be in 2017 at the time that Hinkley Point C was first mooted, and the reductions are expected to continue. (20)

Welsh Consultation The Welsh Government is consulting in parallel on its policy for arrangements for engaging with communities in Wales in relation to the development of a geological disposal facility. This is a distinct process reflecting the unique characteristics of a siting process in Wales, including the different planning and local government systems and the Welsh language.

The consultation covers: · arrangements for engaging with communities which may wish to enter discussions, · how the boundaries of the potential host community might be defined, · how community investment funding should be distributed, · access by a community in discussions to independent third party expert views, · how and when a community’s right to withdraw from discussions should operate, · how and when to test public support to ensure that a community is willing to host a GDF.

The Welsh Government’s Consultation Document on Working with Potential Host Communities is available here: Responses by 20th April (NB extra day) Complete and return to Or Complete and return to: Environmental Quality & Regulation

Cathays Park Cardiff CF10 3NQ



March 14, 2018 - Posted by | General News

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