Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report



3.13 The United Kingdom's position on the options mirrors the international one outlined above. It is not felt to be worthwhile to conduct research on subduction zone disposal, ice sheet disposal or ejection into space. We have signed and ratified the international agreements which rule out seabed and sub-seabed disposal. A watching brief is maintained on partitioning and transmutation but it has been rejected as not feasible for existing wastes, nor for those which will arise in the future from present civil and defence nuclear programmes. The remaining options are discussed below, firstly by outlining the views of the United Kingdom advocates of variants of them.

Regulatory views


3.14 The Agency believes that there should be an integrated programme for the management of ILW and HLW, based on geological disposal of these wastes (pp121-27). It recognises that disposal might involve a period during which wastes are maintained underground in a fully retrievable and monitored condition, to allow further studies, before a repository is backfilled and sealed, and supervision withdrawn. The instigation of an integrated programme would not necessarily mean that all ILW and HLW would be placed in the same repository.

3.15 The Agency considers that the United Kingdom should now "get on with the job" of developing a deep repository, using a stepwise approach based on sound science, openness and public confidence. The first step would be to review the science base and decide which repository concepts and geological settings can be modelled with sufficient confidence to make an initial safety case for disposal. This would lead into a site selection process consisting of identification of potential locations, surface investigations, underground investigations and eventually repository construction. In the interim wastes would be stored safely on the surface.


3.16 The HSE also thinks that the best long term management option is disposal of ILW and HLW in a deep repository. It would prefer repository development to proceed without undue delay, so as to focus short-term waste management decisions and to minimise the time for which wastes are stored on nuclear licensed sites. It believes that the risks to the public and workers from surface storage will always exceed those from a well-designed and engineered repository (pp159-181).

3.17 The HSE also emphasises the need to carry on and extend current programmes of retrieving wastes from unsatisfactory facilities, and immobilisation and packaging of wastes so that they can be stored safely for the time it is likely to take to establish one or more deep repositories. A long delay in establishing a repository could necessitate additional handling and packaging of wastes which it would be preferable to avoid[21].

3.18 The HSE sees merit in establishing a new near-surface disposal facility for short-lived intermediate level wastes, so that these could be removed from nuclear sites at an earlier date than would be possible if they were to be placed in a deep repository.

Nuclear Industry Views

3.19 The nuclear industry believes that disposal in a deep repository is the best long term solution for ILW and HLW but now feels that development of a deep repository should not be rushed (BNFL pp34-40, UKAEA pp313-317, British Energy pp24-29). The industry emphasises that, once wastes have been immobilised and packaged, they can be stored in modern surface facilities for several decades. Wastes can also be kept in a monitored and retrievable condition during the operational period of the repository, which is likely to be a few decades. In the industry's view the first step would be for the Government to establish a consensus that geological disposal is the best option and to confirm that this is the United Kingdom's policy. This would be followed by an open and transparent site selection process, with adequate national and local public consultation.

3.20 Disposal of ILW and HLW in the same repository is seen as an attractive proposition. The industry pointed out that the previous United Kingdom disposal strategy might have required three repositories: one for existing ILW (to be available in the first half of the next century), one for HLW (to be available in the second half of the next century), and one for ILW which will arise from Stage 3 of reactor decommissioning in the century after that (p 28).

Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee

3.21 The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) is very strongly in favour of geological disposal, seeing it as the "only tenable option for long term management of ILW and HLW within the context of sustainable development" (pp 248-263). It has given detailed consideration to the organisational structure, procedures and research required to establish a deep repository in the United Kingdom (pp 248-262, 357-363).

3.22 RWMAC feel that the first step should be to obtain agreement that deep disposal is the correct option for the long-term management of ILW and HLW. This would be achieved through analysis, discussion and public consultation, and could take time (pp 357-363). The next step would be a Government statement of policy and implementation of an Act of Parliament which sets out the repository development process. We discuss this proposal and the organisational structure proposed by RWMAC in Chapter 6.

Views of Environmental Groups

3.23 Greenpeace is of the view that storage on the surface is the least environmentally damaging and most responsible option which is available at present (p 150-154). It believes that this would allow future decisions to be taken with the benefit of better knowledge of the environment and improved technologies. It would also allow an integrated approach to the management of all radioactive wastes. Greenpeace is firmly opposed to disposal in a deep repository, saying that it inevitably involves future contamination of the environment.

3.24 Friends of the Earth is of a similar view, seeing surface storage for the next 50-100 years as the only practicable way forward (PP 316-328). Such storage would be accompanied by a scientific programme which would pass on an increasing knowledge base to future generations and allow them to judge whether a better option exists. Any future policy, strategy and practice should cover all wastes. It believes that geological disposal is not a viable option at present.

3.25 For both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth the cessation of waste creation, by ceasing reprocessing and closing existing nuclear power stations, is a vital part of future waste management policy.

3.26 Environmental pressure groups local to nuclear sites hold similar general views to the national groups but are also concerned about issues which are specific to their sites. Several groups have expressed dissatisfaction about the limited information available to them on the types and quantities of waste stored on site, and about deficiencies in accountability and consultation (see, for example, p17, and paragraph 5.24).

Other United Kingdom Views

3.27 The views of the other organisations and individuals who submitted evidence fall within the spectrum of those expressed by the regulators, the industry, and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Trades Unions tend to favour geological disposal, provided that there is much more emphasis on monitorability and retrievability, both while a repository is operational and after it has been backfilled and sealed (see, for example, pp189-191). Those local authorities which favour geological disposal also require this emphasis. Other local authorities express views which are closer to those of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace: they favour surface storage pending further R&D before any choice of a longer term management option is made (pp 88-93 and pp 218-224).

21   Health and Safety Executive Nuclear Safety Directorate, Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Storage in the UK: A Review by HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, November 1998. Back

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