NOTES ON OVERSEAS VISITS
Members of the Committee made visits to the United
States and Canada 14-23 May; Sweden 22-24 June; and France 20-23
October. These countries have significant waste management programmes
which, although different from our own, provide a good insight
into some alternative approaches. We learned much from our meetings
and the establishments we saw. At all locations our hosts were
exceedingly helpful and hospitable. We would like to reiterate
our thanks to all involved for their assistance.
The conclusions we drew from our visits are incorporated
in the body of our report. What follows are notes on some aspects
of the meetings at each location.
Note of visits to US and Canada
14-23 May 1998
Members present: Lord Tombs (Chairman), Lord Craig
of Radley, Lord Flowers and Lord Howie of Troon, accompanied by
The Committee held meetings with Federal Agencies
and others in Washington and Ottawa, visited the WIPP disposal
site at Carlsbad, New Mexico, the proposed spent fuel repository
at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and the rock characterisation facility
at Whiteshell, Manitoba.
Meetings with the Federal Agencies in Washington
provided useful background for the subsequent visits. At WIPP,
a facility started in 1988 and where $2 billion has been spent
to date, they were ready to take their first delivery of waste
for disposal. There may be delays due to legal action but both
on-site and in Washington the majority view was that the facility
would become operational shortly. As at February 1999 it had not.
The Yucca Mountain project was clearly a lot further from operational
status: the demonstration of viability was the next milestone
on their schedule. The separate research groups, mostly from DoE
national laboratories, did not demonstrate the same single-minded
sense of purpose apparent at WIPP.
The visit to Whiteshell showed an apparently
very sound and scientific approach to rock characterisation. But
the level of activity was low and the need for further generic
study of rock in the absence of any decision to proceed towards
a final repository seemed in doubt. The meetings in Ottawa tended
to confirm these doubts: Canada is in the process of re-evaluating
its disposal plans in the context of an overall review of energy
(primarily electricity) and environmental policy.
Non Governmental Organisations
Mr Michael Marriotte, Nuclear Information and
Resource Service, was the lead speaker for the NGOs. He opened
by saying that in the near term the risks from transportation
of nuclear waste outweighed the benefits of centralised waste
disposal. There was no need for a central store/repository. The
problems of waste had been with us for less than 60 years and
would be with us for many centuries. Contaminated sites would
take more than two generations to clear. There was no crisis.
He added that the last successful order for civil nuclear power
had been in 1973 and none was likely in the foreseeable future.
Mr Marc Fioravanti, The Institute for Energy
and Environment Research, spoke in favour of a revised classification
system, as the US system was not relevant to the long-term hazard.
Although he acknowledged it was probably politically unacceptable,
he thought, technically, it was worth looking at sea-bed disposal.
What was needed now was much more emphasis on research and an
examination of all the options. Ms Maureen Eldridge, Alliance
for Nuclear Accountability, pointed out that although there had
been research on technical solutions nobody had looked at the
social/equity issues: they had just looked at Yucca Mountain.
The consensus was that responsibility for nuclear waste should
be taken from US DoE and given to a new independent agency responsible
solely for disposal.
In a discussion of the prospects for WIPP, Mr Auke
Piersma, Public Citizen, and the other representatives made the
point that it was difficult to take legal cases based on technical
issues, where the courts invariably deferred to Government experts,
but cases could be won on procedural issues. They would be litigating
against the opening of WIPP and the shipment of waste from Idaho
Ms Eldridge was concerned that the environmental
groups had not been able to open up a "natural dialogue"
with Government. A forum was needed whereby concerned people could
discuss what was technically sound and was fair and equitable.
This would take many years to establish. The forum would be like
those used for race relations, education and climate change. A
new procedure was necessary to enable a comprehensive examination
of all aspects. Perhaps a Presidential Commission might be appropriate.
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Dr John Greeves gave a presentation on the legal
background to the Commission's role in the regulation of waste.
Congress had required the Agency to undertake rulemaking. The
long-term requirement was well defined but the interim measures
were politically charged. WIPP had been decided following a scientific
evaluation but Yucca Mountain was chosen for high level/transuranic
waste by Congress.
The Agency had 40 people based in Washington
and around 50 at the Southern Research Institute. NRC was not
aware of any new proposals for re-classification of waste, but
there had been many such proposals over the last decade. In practice
"greater than class C" low level waste was like UK intermediate
Twenty per cent of US waste is government owned
but the creation of a repository is regarded by NRC as a public
good which is rightly paid for by Government. The risk criteria
"one in a million" per year would be difficult for Yucca
Mountain - as it would for oil production platforms and fossil
fuel burning. (Coal ash is treated as a "technologically
enhanced natural material" and exempt from the requirements
of nuclear waste disposal.) Some DoE sites, eg Hanford, have severe
problems but DoE is "self-regulating". Approximately
50 tonnes of weapon grade plutonium may be introduced into the
commercial fuel cycle as MOX, but in general the policy was not
to pursue this approach or to undertake reprocessing. In practice,
a third of the plutonium did not lend itself to incorporation
in MOX in any case.
The NRC was optimistic that, after minor legal
skirmishes, WIPP would open. However, transportation would continue
to create difficulties. If Yucca Mountain failed "we start
over", ie NRC was not considering alternative sites. At this
time more than two thirds of the House of Representatives were
in favour of the Yucca Mountain site but the proposal faced implacable
opposition from the Nevada State delegation.
The NRC showed some concern that EPA might promulgate
a standard for ground water which would in effect rule out Yucca
Mountain as a disposal site. There would be public hearings on
these rules and the distance from the site at which they should
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
The Board had been created by Congress specifically
to advise on the Yucca Mountain project. It met three or four
times a year in public, had a staff of 15 - half of whom were
technically qualified - who organised various ad-hoc sub-committee
meetings primarily on technical issues. The Board was appointed
by the President, but for terms which straddled presidential elections,
and members were nominated on advice from the National Academy.
The Board was regarded as independent - not political. It was
purely advisory and had no executive powers.
The Attorney General for the State of Nevada
and the congressional delegation were strongly opposed to the
Yucca Mountain site and EPA, if it promulgated a health based
standard comparable to the drinking water standard, would stop
the project. But science was only part of the issue, public acceptability
In a discussion of the role of the public it was
pointed out that 95 per cent were not active participants but,
in this case, the passive majority were content to follow the
lead of the environmental end of the spectrum, not the Government
or the industrial scientists. DoE had awoken too late to the importance
of the issues of public perception. The role of Congress was to
integrate these views of the public but whereas Congress took
an active role in some environmental issues this was not one.
US Department of Energy
Jim Owendoff, Program Director, WIPP described
DoE's work on waste treatment since the early 50s. They had been
working on WIPP for over 23 years and, although there would undoubtedly
be Federal and State legal suits, he was optimistic that it would
become operational shortly.
Discussing work on acceptability issues, Ernest Moniz,
Under Secretary said the Department had not adopted a high national
profile. The New Mexico State Delegation supported WIPP but that
from Nevada was very hostile towards Yucca Mountain. The Department
was not considering any alternative to Yucca Mountain unless the
site was ruled out: the legislation passed by Congress in 1987
to establish Yucca Mountain as the repository stated that DoE
may not search for any other site. Storage, currently designed
for 100 years, could be extended to, say, 200+ during which period
there might be a "monitored repository" - but ultimately
closed disposal was the objective. The problem was not a technical
but a social one. The "interested public" was very negative
towards nuclear power and a waste repository in particular.
The Department undertook some research on waste
minimisation and transmutation but although these techniques might
postpone the need for a repository, but they could not replace
it. Transmutation would be a good programme for international
collaboration. If it could be shown to work it would help with
the public perception and may reduce the long timescale of disposal,
but was not a solution to the present problem.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
George Dials, the DoE Area Office Manager argued
that surface storage of waste was unsatisfactory in that natural
hazards, weather (in particular tornadoes) could lead to dispersal
- and there was always the need to prevent unauthorised access.
In 1971 the Atomic Energy Commission (a predecessor of DoE's in
the area) had selected a rock salt deposit in Kansas for disposal
but this was technically inadequate. The present site was geologically
vastly superior and was politically acceptable.
In the US many contaminated sites were close to centres
of population, for example Rocky Flats was near the 3 million
people of Denver. Within ten years of becoming operational, WIPP
would reduce the number of people within 10 miles of such radiological
hazards from 53 million to 4 million. In 1980 they had a congressional
mandate to "study the problem" but the study was now
over and the objective was to become operational. Waste would
be transported from almost every State of the Union: traffic accidents
were the greatest risks.
In commenting on the significance of transportation,
Mr Dials observed that relative to leaving waste where it was
- moving it was better. He noted that in Texas the civil authorities
had decided that the risks from transportation were so small that
no special action was needed. However, in Santa Fey concerns had
resulted in funds to build a by-pass. Concerning the legal challenges
to WIPP, Mr Dials was confident: the EPA had approached the WIPP
rule-making process in the knowledge that they would be sued.
He was certain the rules would withstand the legal challenges.
Touring the site itself revealed a very business-like
approach to construction. Tests had already been undertaken on
the collapse of salt caverns. The Committee saw the way the roof
bowed as caverns opened earlier tended to refill. The site created
the impression that it would shortly be an operational facility
where the day-to-day business would be the disposal of waste.
The Yucca Mountain Project
Mr Alan Benson, Director of Institutional Affairs,
provided an introduction to the Yucca Mountain project. Work had
begun in the early 70s with the decision of Congress. It had created
very strong local opposition. The area had been subject to earthquakes
and prior to that was a volcanic region. But they have found nothing
to indicate that it was unsuitable for disposal. Congress had
offered Nevada $100 million per annum but this had been rejected.
Now there was a congressional enquiry into the way monies had
been spent, reflecting the political conflict over the choice
of site. The Yucca Mountain site budget was $346 million per annum
of which $194 million came from the Defence budget. The total
cost of the project was likely to be around $9 billion if it proceeded
to completion. However, even if the next stage was completed satisfactorily,
the State of Nevada could submit to Congress a "Notice of
disapproval" which would need a congressional vote to overturn.
The jurisdiction over the Yucca Mountain site was
complicated. One third lay within the Nevada test site and the
remainder was shared between the adjacent Air Force base and land
belonging to the Bureau of Land Management. The site was chosen
primarily for its remoteness and the technical facilities - those
associated with a nuclear weapons test site. Underground we were
shown the work which has just been completed on heat testing to
simulate waste fuel rods in situ. No radiation tests had been
undertaken and the effects of exposure of rock, eg expansion,
had not been determined. Although we were 400m above the water
table (and a similar distance below the surface) water was present
in the rocks and dripped from the ceiling when it was heated.
The Committee was welcomed by Dr Ken Dormuth,
Director of AECL's Environmental Studies, who gave us a presentation
on the work at the site. CANDU fuel bundles are currently stored
at generating site. There are about 1.3 million of them which,
assuming no further power stations are built, would rise to about
3.6 million. Most were in Ontario and spent a few years underwater
after which they were dry stored. Current storage presented no
problems, not even in the mind of the public. But such storage
was unsatisfactory in that it depended on institutional controls,
people to maintain security and undertake monitoring etc. Dr Dormuth
observed that you cannot say something was "safe" if
it relied on people to maintain security. There needed to be a
stable society to operate a store that required maintenance or
allowed retrievability. If there was any hint of a lack of such
stability, economic collapse etc, then the first item to be cut
would be expenditure on safe storage for future generations.
The Federal Government and the Ontario Provincial
Government had established a nuclear fuel waste management programme
to look at disposal. The legislation establishing this programme
had defined disposal with no intention of retrievability. If a
disposal site were left open security would create the major risks.
In 1978 a site was chosen and a programme initiated but it was
a demonstration site, not a permanent repository. Public acceptance
was based on the assurance that it would not be the chosen site.
Public debate over who would decide the location of a permanent
store meant that in 1988 a public review was initiated. The present
site had been intentionally located where faults were present
to examine their effect. There was no information on any putative
sites. Public concern over the "seal and walk away"
concept had put the brakes on the programme.
AECL had been instructed to produce a generic environmental
impact statement addressing safety and intergenerational equity
issues. It was based on a "concept" not a specific site.
However there were many potential sites within the Canadian shield.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, to whom AECL as a Government
Agency reported, had referred the matter to the Ministry of Environment
which had appointed a review panel (the Seaborn Panel). The remit
of this panel was to review the safety and acceptability of the
concept along with "a broad range of nuclear fuel waste management
Dr Davidson described the hydrological research undertaken
at Whiteshell. Again studies had been undertaken on a "hypothetical"
location bearing in mind this was generic work not aimed at a
specific site. They had demonstrated that their models were good
at predicting reality but 'generic' research was no substitute
for work at the actual proposed site. All hydrological work was
now shelved pending a decision on the future of the laboratory.
Dr Ohta described the underground research laboratory
stating that the original concept was a precursor of a repository
but this had quickly been changed to a generic laboratory. The
site was finally chosen to enable fractures etc to be examined.
There were around 70 people on the site, it had cost C$72 million
for construction and the total spend was about C$160 million.
Construction finished at the end 1980 and since then experiments
on, for example, heat dissipation, engineering barriers, buffer
stores and tunnel sealing had been undertaken.
Our visit to the site revealed a superbly clean underground
laboratory. The walls were washed, there was hardly any dust present,
the surface underfoot and lighting levels etc were all first rate.
There were display boards to describe the experiments that had
been undertaken: but there was little work in progress.
Atomic Energy Control Board
Dr Agnes Bishop, President, described the Board's
role as an independent regulator. She quickly developed the theme
that it is "public acceptance" that is the problem in
regulating nuclear waste for most countries. She stated that even
if you solve the disposal problem, the public perception of the
transportation risks raised at least equal difficulties. Although
AECB had no definition of what "acceptable to the Canadian
public" meant, it had clear consultation procedures involving
elected representatives and public hearings. There were no rules
about who had to be consulted or even agreement about who might
create such rules. Dr Bishop observed that if the politicians
were affected by "public concern" - then such concern
was real and relevant.
Dr Bishop observed that the environmental assessment
of a future site required the answer to questions that were site
specific - information that could only be obtained once work on
the site had commenced. However these issues were perhaps secondary:
politicians and policy-makers were deeply concerned by the public
attitude and until all this was resolved there would be no disposal.
In discussing internationally shared facilities the
general view around the table was that if one nation demonstrated
that it could solve its own problems then there might be an opportunity
for shared disposal facilities. But until then, an international
solution was unrealistic.
Natural Resources Canada
A large round-table discussion was held at Natural
Resources Canada chaired by Dan Whelan, Director General of the
resources branch. Also present was Peter Brown, Head of Radioactive
Waste Policy; Blair Seaborn, the Chairman of the report on Nuclear
Fuel Waste Management; and Brennian Lloyd of the Public Interest
Group, Northwatch. Mike Clelland, Assistant Deputy Minister, joined
the meeting part way.
Dan Whelan opened the discussion by explaining that
Ontario Hydro had closed seven reactors (leaving 12 remaining)
because of management problems. Dr Whelan said that in Canada
the public was no longer content that the industry could handle
its problems - from proliferation to waste.
Peter Brown stated that in 1976 the Government adopted
a report which examined the choices for waste management and concluded
that phased geological disposal was the way forward. Granitic
rocks in the Canadian Shield were the first choice with salt secondary,
primarily because the United States was undertaking any necessary
work. Both the Provinces and the Government had concluded that
no disposal could proceed until the concept was acceptable to
the public. In 1988 AECL came forward with a technical concept
and a panel, subsequently known as the Seaborn Panel, was formed.
The Government would probably respond the Seaborn
report in the Autumn. It may set up a new agency to deal specifically
with waste, there would be a new Regulatory Control Act in place
and Government would consult on the detailed regulations. The
response to the Seaborn report would probably be associated with
a wider review of the future of nuclear power and its role in
Richard Ferch described changes underway to the 1946
Atomic Energy Control Act. This set up the Atomic Energy Control
Board with the power to grant licences and set conditions on radioactive
substances. He emphasised the importance of public participation
in defining requirements for the environmental assessment. There
were legal requirements on participation and in practise a political
need for public acceptance. The Government had set regulatory
objectives for disposal facilities: risks below 10-6
to an individual with no credit taken for institutional controls
etc. Mine tailings, for example, did not reach these criteria
as institutional controls would be necessary indefinitely.
Dr Blair Seaborn described the work of the Waste
Management and Disposal Concept Panel. The Panel's terms of reference
had been to examine the concept of deep disposal in a rock repository.
It was asked to comment on the safety and acceptability of this
concept and provide advice on what policy Government should follow.
Dr Seaborn described the recommendation of the Panel
that Government should issue a policy statement on nuclear waste
management. This was to enable Canadians to know what the Government
thought and what its objectives were. The public could then make
its own conclusions on where a specific disposal site might fit
in with that policy. The panel had recommended the establishment
of a special agency to deal with nuclear fuel waste, improved
consultation methods in general and a specific, comprehensive
plan for public consultation on disposal - this would probably
be the first job of the new agency. This agency should be operational
within one year and able to make recommendations to Parliament
Dr Seaborn made it clear that "sufficient"
consultation should probably be measured in terms of time and
intensity, ie a review period of a certain duration involving
certain procedures. It was the role of Parliament to gauge the
outcome of such consultation. Dr Seaborn commented that it was
not meaningful to ask the public "Do you like this?",
eg underground monitored retrievable storage, when the question
was not asked with reference to anything else, ie, compared to
surface storage etc. Although it was advocated by many environmentalists,
there was no data on long-term surface storage. Until more work
had been done on all these processes the Panel had recommended
that a specific site should not be sought.
Dr Seaborn made it clear that failure to demonstrate
acceptability was not synonymous with a clear indication of unacceptability.
The onus was on the proposer to show that the proposed course
of action was acceptable. The public had shown by its rejection
of previous proposals what was not acceptable. Dr Seaborn indicated
that far greater political involvement was needed, perhaps by
a joint Senate House Committee.
A decision was needed within the next three years
not on the "best" site but on one which was acceptable
to the host community (however defined). The involvement of the
"willing host" would have to be a continuing process
with the community participating in local decisions. In practice
the distinction between a deep repository and a retrievable store
need not be great. But in the minds of the public it was probably
significant. If retrievability existed the assumptions, the models
etc, could be checked and, if found acceptable, then one could
say, "Okay lets close it".
Brennian Lloyd made it clear that from her public
interest perspective the linkage between nuclear power and nuclear
waste was not worth attempting to unbundle. An energy strategy
was needed which would provide emphasis on conservation and renewables.
Nuclear energy was not a response to global warming.
Note of visit to Sweden
22-24 June 1998
Members present: Lord Tombs, Lord Craig of Radley,
Lord Flowers, Baroness Hogg and Lord Jenkin of Roding, accompanied
by the Clerk.
The Sub-Committee visited Sweden to meet Government
officials in Stockholm and the facilities of SKB at Forsmark and
Oskarshamn. A note of each meeting follows this section.
Sweden has had an underground repository for "operational
waste", that is short-lived low and intermediate level waste,
since 1988. There have been two attempts at selecting a site for
a deep repository for spent fuel, so far without success. But
the last attempt failed to win acceptance only narrowly and since
then the Swedish Government has re-doubled its efforts to gain
public support. SKB has completed generic research on rock characterisation
and is undertaking the technology development, handling, and staff
training necessary to run a repository.
The Swedish waste disposal problem is inherently
more straightforward than our own. They have elected not to reprocess
spent fuel and therefore do not have all the intermediate level
waste or plutonium associated with that process. Co-disposal of
short-lived waste, and disposal (not re-processing) of spent fuel
is both technically and presentationally more easy than our own
task. Their society is also different: allegations of secrecy
seem rarely levelled at the industry and even less at the regulators.
Part of the public confidence in the regulators may stem from
the Swedish freedom of information laws. But even with a history
of public confidence in the nuclear industry and its regulators,
the absence of a nuclear waste legacy from past military programmes
and a more straightforward waste management programme with its
absence of reprocessing, Sweden has not yet gained public acceptance
for a deep geological disposal facility.
Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI)
Mr Lars Högberg, Director General told us that
in Sweden about 50% of electricity is generated by nuclear power,
giving a per capita figure greater than the French. SKI regulated
reactor safety, licensing etc, as well as non-proliferation matters.
It had a staff of 111 and was responsible for ensuring the conformance
with licensing conditions. The Swedish Radiation Protection Institute
(SSI) enforced environment conditions, water standards etc.
The Swedish constitution in 1766 gave public access
to the documents of "The Authority". In effect Sweden
had the equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act giving individuals
the right of access to regulators. SKI ensured that the nuclear
industry published relevant documents.
Mr Högberg outlined the objectives for the safety
of nuclear waste: future generations should not be asked to tolerate
greater risks than the present, and responsibility for waste should
be met by those who benefited from its creation. He saw the challenge
under four headings: financial, scientific, technical and "democratic",
ie, societal issues.
Financial issues were straightforward. The generators
were required to contribute to a fund which was approximately
Kr25 billion. The scientific and technical issues were also relatively
clear. In the course of a regulatory review of the entire disposal
process, projecting forward to a hundred thousand years, SKI had
concluded that the radiological risk of disposal was similar to
that in present rocks. There was what he called a "reasonable
assurance of a tolerable risk facility", ie a satisfactory
disposal facility could be built.
But societal issues were the challenge. These required
first an acceptance of the safety criteria and the concept of
"reasonable assurance"; then there had to be acceptance
of the choice of system, ie, disposal, transmutation etc and finally
there had to be acceptance of the site, the design and construction
of the repository. These were national decisions which could not
be taken solely at local level. "You cannot expect local
communities to take national decisions".
Mr Högberg felt that SKI was trusted by the
public who recognised that the scientific and technical capabilities
of the organisation gave it independence. Regulations were developed
in a step-wise manner which involved local elected officials.
Swedish Radiological Protection Institute (SSI)
Dr Karl-Magnus Larsson, Director described the work
of SSI. In effect the organisation combined the roles of our NRPB,
examining the science of all forms of radiation, electromagnetic,
ultra-violet, etc. It was also responsible for environmental protection.
In the case of a repository, SKI had the overall co-ordinating
responsibility but SSI had responsibility for the radiological
protection element. The decision on licensing rests with the Cabinet.
SSI had a specific mandate to inform the public and
explain the issues of radiological protection. The public had
developed now a better understanding of the issues and was "asking
tougher questions" The organisation undertook its own research
as well as commissioning work from others. Dr Larsson maintained
that a decision on the need for monitoring of a repository could
be taken around the time of prospective closure, ie, 2050/2060.
At present there was no need to debate the issue, for interim
storage would certainly have to be used for spent fuel.
National Co-ordinator for Nuclear Waste Disposal
Dr Olive Söderberg explained the role of the
organisation. His post had been created for three years, he had
a staff of three people and a budget of around Kr3 million. He
set up discussion fora to enable local municipalities to understand
the issues. It was the responsibility of industry to find a solution
and implement it, but this obligation could not be fulfilled unless
the public understood the need for a long-term repository. It
was a question of creating understanding and with it trust: not
just providing information.
Dr Söderberg's work was funded from the nuclear
waste fund. He had established a "Nuclear Environment Assessment
Forum" for nuclear waste disposal consisting of a committee
of 25 people including regulators, industry, municipal officials,
theologians etc. They looked at issues such as alternative strategies,
siting and societal questions. Alternative strategies were examined
from the ethical view point: what should be left to succeeding
generations. Often these topics created difficulties for local
politicians who were elected to protect their local community.
Nonetheless, Dr Söderberg was confident that it would be
possible to find a suitable and willing local community to accept
a repository. Indeed there were plans to provide financial compensation
to those who underwent a feasibility study but did not end up
with a repository, ie, compensation for loss of benefit for those
passed over in the competition to house the repository. But there
were no financial inducements for hosting the repository.
Dr Söderberg reiterated the general consensus
that public agreement had to be achieved before contemplating
even a feasibility study. Initially volunteers had been sought
throughout the nation but SKB concentrated on those near existing
nuclear plants. It took one and a half years for Oskarshamn to
decide it would accept a feasibility study and Government was
looking for approximately five such studies. It takes a long time
to gain support and the Mayor of Oskarshamn spent about 50% of
his time on the issue of the repository. Public acceptance could
not be rushed. There was an overwhelming lack of interest by local
communities in nuclear issues until a site was proposed in their
municipality. Only this created the awareness which was then perceived
in local, not national terms.
Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste (KASAM)
Dr Camilla Odhnoff is Chairperson of KASAM, an independent
Committee established in 1985 to study issues relating to nuclear
waste and decommissioning. It reports to the Minister of the Environment,
who appoints the chairperson. This Committee is also widely drawn
to include not only experts on the science and technology of radioactive
waste disposal but also those with expertise in ethics, law and
social sciences. Review of the research and development programmes
for the repository is within its remit. KASAM produces its report
on the state of knowledge every third year, although its existence
is not widely known to the public.
Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company
The Sub-Committee was welcomed by Dr Claes Thegerström
who told us surveys showed that the public had confidence in the
regulators and an even greater confidence in SKB. There was a
general "trust in the system". This he put down in part
to the transparency of the process and the Swedish equivalent
of freedom of information. In Sweden there had been no adverse
nuclear power events and confidence in the industry had recovered
rapidly following the Chernobyl incident. He did not think the
political decision to phase out nuclear power had any effect on
the acceptability of a nuclear waste repository. However, at present
there was no prospect of any new nuclear generating capacity being
Government had set clear responsibilities for SKB.
It was an entity of the producers who were responsible for its
funding. It undertook R&D and demonstration projects, was
responsible for site selection, planning and construction of the
repository and would be responsible for its commission and operation.
In the end only the State can assume long term responsibilities
for matters over hundreds or thousands of years but up to the
point where no new safety measures are required, it was SKB's
SKB had been formed in 1972 for joint uranium purchases
by the power producers and by 1977 had become involved in waste
treatment. The repository at Forsmark had been in operation since
1988. Dr Thegerström said that if you had a step-by-step
process, and you were able to take a step backwards if needed
at no unreasonable cost, you would, in the end, have sufficient
confidence to walk away from a deep repository. However, the uncertainty
about future social change was orders of magnitude greater than
uncertainty about any technical issues.
Dr Tönis Papp, Research Director described the
three-level hierarchy of safety: isolation; retention and dilution,
which was the basis of their philosophy. Waste was put in steel
containers encased in copper which were placed 300-500 metres
below the surface in crystalline rock and back-filled with bentonite
clay. The objective was to have a system which was not dependent
on maintenance but which did not hinder monitoring.
In analysing safety, he said it was important to
show the absolute maximum risk achieved rather than dealing with
mean values and quoting a scatter band. To enhance the demonstrability
of their systems they relied on existing naturally occurring materials,
for example, items such as bronze cannons which had been on the
sea bed for over three hundred years, or old copper coins.
Maximum container temperature was kept low, (80-100°)
and materials were not operating far from their "normal"
range, although the welding of the containers, particularly the
steel case, was critical. It was also important to show that retrievability
and monitoring did not reduce safety. Retrievability might be
necessary even without a monitoring programme if, for example,
more knowledge on welding technology suggested that the safety
case had changed and material should best be removed. Dr Papp
accepted one could question the behaviour of materials in the
long-term, particularly under radiation, but this was the best
situation based on present knowledge. If waste was left on the
surface a breakdown in society was a far greater potential for
Mr Claes Thegerström, Vice President said in
1992 SKB wanted to commence construction of a repository. They
needed homogenous bedrock with no minerals which might prompt
exploration, an industrial facility on the surface, good transportation
(all reactors are on the coast and they have a specialised transport
ship) and above all public acceptability. Two overriding principles
were safety and acceptability - to get political support the politicians
needed to have public support.
SKB would look for five to ten sites where they could
undertake feasibility studies, select two from these, undertake
a drilling programme which might last five years or so and then
go through a formal licensing procedure for detailed site exploration
at one. They had sufficient knowledge of Swedish geology to conclude
that about half the country was suitable for a repository. At
the first site they had examined, a referendum showed that approximately
70% were against, but the second site considered in 1977, showed
54% against with 44% in favour. SKB had spent about £1.1
million on this second site, but had now forsaken it in the light
of the referendum. (The local community had in practice a right
of veto.) The main lesson learned was to start early.
Mr Torsten Eng gave details of the current feasibility
study. A main element in their discussions at local level had
been the need for a national indication of support: hence the
role of the national co-ordinator. The national environmental
groups had stated that they were against geological disposal on
principle: more research was needed, not a siting exercise. The
Government concluded that as they did not agree to the principle
they should leave the national co-ordinating group, which they
Mr Bo Kåwemark, Operational Manager of the
Final Repository for short-lived waste (SFR) described the facility,
50 metres below the surface and one kilometre from shore under
the Baltic Sea. Construction had started in 1983 and was completed
by 1988. It had a capacity for 60k m3 of which 22 had
been filled so far. About Kr740 million had been invested and
the operating costs were around Kr25 million per year. If necessary
the facility could be extended by building new silos: these were
25 metres in diameter and 50 metres high. Waste was laid down
in 42 layers, back-filling every three with concrete. By 1996
they had emptied all interim storage in Sweden and the pace of
filling had now slackened off to match disposal requirements until
Our visit underground revealed a very impressive
facility: a tunnel with high-ceilings and a good road surface,
well ventilated with all services installed to a very high quality.
It was cool, quiet and damp (700m3 of water per minute
were pumped out).
Mr Henry Gustavsson is the site manager of the Canister
Laboratory where development work is undertaken on the canisters
to be used to hold the spent fuel rods in the repository. It is
situated in a large building on the docks at Oskarshamn next to
where the SKB transport ship, Sigyn, is moored. The facility,
which cost Kr150 million, will be a demonstration model of the
technology used to seal the containers, covering all aspects except
the actual placement of active fuel rods. Cylinders are sealed,
welded with an eb welder, examined by x-ray, ultrasonically tested
and finally made ready for dispatch.
The Laboratory has already shown around over 500
members of the public and has produced a very good video. As with
everything we saw, the standard of construction of the building,
all accessories and fittings, was particularly high. Although
referred to as a "laboratory" the facility was more
like a pre-production prototype designed to test operational equipment
Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory
Dr Olle Olsson is Project Manager of the Äspö
Hard Rock Laboratory. From the surface the Laboratory looks uncannily
like a small modern Swedish farmhouse and associated barns. The
majority of red-timbered buildings were built in 1994 although
the "admin" building was constructed only one month
ago. SKB had started work in Äspö in 1986 to extend
their generic knowledge base. They needed a better performance
assessment of rock characteristics and to develop and test the
methods they might use for disposal. The facility would also be
used for staff training. The Laboratory had been located near
a power plant to make use of the infrastructure and a site with
a variety of conditions (rock faults etc) chosen to evaluate techniques.
SKB had given an undertaking to the local community that they
would not put the final repository at this location.
There had been a pre-investigation phase, 1986-1990,
and construction from 1990-1995. They had been operating since
then. The Laboratory consisted of a road and shaft to 420 metres,
constructed by drill and blast techniques, at which level they
had used a tunnel-boring machine to open out the chambers. As
at Whiteshell, we saw work on sealing technology, barriers and
back-fill materials etc.
SKB had concluded that their models used for pre-construction
evaluation had been confirmed, as had those for water flow etc.
In general they spoke with great confidence of the results of
the evaluation and had concluded that little further generic work
was needed: future work should be site specific.
The overall impression was of a very large, well
engineered facility where a full simulation of a repository, including
materials handling problems etc, was underway. Like the Canister
Laboratory, this facility was less a laboratory along the lines
of, for example, Whiteshell, than a prototype disposal facility.
Central Interim Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear
Dr Per Grahn, Director of CLAB described the facility.
Started in 1985, it had a capacity for 5,000 tonnes of spent fuel:
there were plans to increase this by another 3,000 tonnes. They
took about 80 casks per year and spent Kr75 million per annum.
The construction costs in 1988 were Kr1.7 billion.
Our visit followed the process route starting with
the receiving area where the dry fuel containers were unloaded
into tanks at the surface. The system was designed to ensure that
there was no cross-contamination between equipment handling the
incoming casks and those on their way to storage: and defective
casks could be easily isolated. Casks were then transported via
a water filled lift to one of five main storage vaults underground.
These were built on supports just above the bedrock as part of
the earthquake protection measures. As with everything we had
seen at SKB, the housekeeping and quality of the engineering was
impeccable and all the facilities very modern.
Notes of visit to France
20-23 October 1998
Members present: Lord Tombs (Chairman), Lord Craig
of Radley, Lord Howie of Troon, Baroness Platt of Writtle (Paris
only) and the Earl of Cranbrook (Cherbourg only), accompanied
by the Clerk.
The Committee visited the Cogema and Andra sites
at Cap de la Hague on the Cotentin peninsula, followed by meetings
with Government and with OECD officials in Paris. There was a
marked contrast between the views expressed at the Industry Ministry
(and Cogema) with those at the Environment Department. These must
be resolved before the French disposal program can proceed in
line with the '91 Law' but nobody we spoke to thought the disagreement
would be resolved quickly.
Cap la Hague
The Committee was welcomed by Monsieur Xavier Rincel,
Chargé de Mission auprès de la Branch Combustibles
et Recyclage, who provided a brief overview of the La Hague site.
It is large, approximately 3 x 1 km, with two main reprocessing
plants. The earlier, UP2 is used primarily to reprocess French
spent fuel and the other,UP3, processes foreign material. The
latter has contracts until the year 2010. M Rincel described the
fuel cycle, emphasising the benefits of reprocessing as a waste
management service. At La Hague they did not produce MOX which
was fabricated at Pierrelatte. Our discussion concentrated on
the more modern UP3 plant. This came into operation in 1989 with
a nominal capacity of 800 tonnes.
Mme Veronique Decobert, Directeur Sureté Qualité,
made a presentation on Cogema's environmental and health physics
programmes. which concentrated on environmental pathways to man.
It regarded "technical feasibility" and the "environmental
impact" as the key factors of the OSPAR agreement.
EdF use MOX in 28 of their plants but only in the
900 MW reactors - not the later 1300 MW units. If used at 30%
we were told this would create a balance between plutonium produced
and plutonium burnt. If exports to Germany are increased there
would be a net reduction in plutonium stocks and, in any case,
the Melox plant could transfer all current plutonium production
into MOX for French reactors. Cogema acknowledged that EdF had
assumed that uranium would be cheaper than reprocessed MOX and
that there were some economic doubts about reprocessing MOX, but
EdF had "14 years to decide" the route for spent MOX
fuel. There were long term reprocessing contracts with Germany,
Japan, Switzerland and Belgium, but the current throughput of
1600 tonnes would be reduced by 30 % in three years' time. However
at the end of current contracts all capital costs will have been
We were shown around the plant, following the process
from the arrival of the casks, opening underwater, storage, sheering,
vitrification and store. In appearance the plant was very similar
to BNFL's THORP operation and most of the site is under 13 years
We were welcomed by the Manager of the La Manche
low-level waste facility, M Frank Duret and M Jacques Tamborini
who provided an historical overview of the Parc de la Croix Blanch
facility as well as a general outline of the French nuclear waste
Andra was created in 1979 as part of the Atomic Energy
Commission. It handles research for waste management as well as
design and construction of facilities. Ministerial responsibility
is split between the departments of Health, Industry and Environment
which means that in the end the Prime Minister has to make the
decisions, particularly when Industry and Environment are in disagreement.
M Tamborini described the "91 law" which
had established a clear-cut framework for radioactive waste management.
The law recognised deep geological disposal as the only safe method
but public acceptance of an RCF had not been achieved because
local acceptance was not forthcoming. The French government helped
communities decide by offering 5 million francs per year to those
that volunteered. If work started a total of 60 million francs
per annum was available until the year 2006.
Work would need to commence at more than one site
so that there could be a fallback if one was found unsuitable.
The current philosophy was to maintain retrievability of waste
for a period. M Tamborini acknowledged that there was a risk that
the French government's decision would be delayed.
French Government: Ministry of the Economy, Finances
M Antoine Guéroult, Adjoint au Directeur Général
de I'Energie et des Matières Premières, observed
that the total stock of French plutonium was increasing. It was
more difficult to return waste to overseas contractors and France
was not burning plutonium fast enough, although it might reach
equilibrium if all 28 reactors capable of using MOX were fully
utilised. On the economics he referred to an OECD study which
indicated the closed fuel cycle and disposal were very comparable.
But with the plant built and the plutonium in existence from this
point on, he said, it made sense to use MOX.
French Government: Ministry for Territorial Development
and the Environment
Madame Dominique Voynet,
Minister for Territorial Development and the Environment told
us that she regarded plutonium as a waste. She said that the economics
of MOX were far from convincing and that she had asked the Prime
Minister for an economic analysis. She said she was suggesting
to the Prime Minister that plutonium be declared a waste now.
The Minister outlined progress with the 91 Law saying
it was based on a comparison of surface storage with deep disposal,
but an intermediate proposal, near surface storage where the waste
was easy to recover but protected against intervention, was a
more sensible alternative. She acknowledged that transmutation
would not be available for decades and would be at considerable
cost. The construction of a rock laboratory created political
and local tensions and would also be extremely costly she said.
The Minister developed an argument for reversibility
based on ethical and political grounds, stating that a short time
ago the scientists were 100% confident that a repository should
be closed, whereas now they were speaking with less certainty.
Similarly it was premature to rule out any new technologies or
even reuse. She acknowledged her views were not shared by the
majority of the present Government but, irrespective of her personal
position on the future of the nuclear industry, she was confident
that governments should examine the costs of the disposal options.
When expressing her views on energy use, CO2 etc,
the Minister stated that nobody envisaged stopping the nuclear
industry in a day but diversity of supply, better control of use
etc, together with unsound economics, did not suggest an expanding
nuclear programme. However there was no hurry to make a premature
decision over the disposal of waste. France should take time to
look at all the options and initiate a democratic debate about
possible solutions. The only proposal which led to an irreversible
decision was to go for direct geological disposal. There was no
need for this decision to be taken now, indeed it was technically
unsound to do so. Techniques for reversible storage should be
evaluated for the next ten to twenty years.
The Minister developed the theme that research into
storage technology was expensive and therefore should be shared
at a European level with each country working in parallel on various
techniques. Rock laboratories were expensive and should not be
duplicated. Mme Voynet also discussed the difficulties over public
perception if France developed a rock laboratory.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency
Señor Luis Echavarri, the Director-General
of the NEA, introduced his team: Dr Makoto Takahashi, the Deputy
Director responsible for safety; Dr Hans Riotte the German Head
of Radiation Protection,; and Dr Claudio Pescatore the Divisional
Head of Radiation Protection. Each for their part outlined the
organisation and work programme from their perspective. They provided
us with comprehensive documentation reviewing the position on
waste disposal in OECD member countries. Hans Riotte summed it
up by stating that there are no inseparable technical or geological
constraints. It should be possible for any country to find a suitable
The data showed that whilst many countries had found
disposal sites for very low level waste, none had done so for
high level waste although there were many investigations under-way.
Dr Riotte emphasised the different regulatory regimes across OECD
countries, each with different views on acceptability and different
Dr Claudio Pescatore made a presentation on geological
disposal. He acknowledged that there had been repeated statements
by safety authorities that deep disposal could provide adequate
safety but the public remained unconvinced. Techniques such as
partitioning and transmutation might become part of waste management
practices in future but they would not be an alternative to disposal.
He described a phased procedure leading to disposal, starting
with an extended interim store with reversible placement. This
would enable a demonstration phase to be completed before confidence
was gained to seal the repository.
Dr Pescatore commented on extrapolation into the
future based on limited experience, observed that future generations
will be able to apply their own technical solutions but must be
presented with the best we can offer, and that a progressive approach
to disposal enabled corrections to be made if unexpected events
occurred. He said an OECD group was working on the "confidence
aspects": the ethical, economic and political issues related
to disposal. It was organisational structures more than technical
issues that inhibited progress.