Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2001
20. This Committee will be in a position to
tackle the Minister about that, and I am sure we might want to,
but you do take my point, do you not, that if people are to have
faith, as it were, that we are in a different era of greater openness,
that, here we are, there is a stumbling block straightaway?
(Mr Murray) Indeed.
21. And that is not helpful, it does not help
to build confidence, it does not help to build my confidence?
(Mr Murray) I agree, and it is an issue that we should
22. I accept what you said about the Government
taking a position, although you did not entirely blame the Government,
and you have said that personally you might be persuaded; is it
not also a factor of Nirex's structure, in as much as it is overwhelmingly
owned by the industry, and, again, that is the public credibility
issue as well? And do you not think that, however you behave in
the future, perhaps revealing the 12 sites and other proofs of
openness, there will almost be a doubt, at least, and possibly
worse than that, that you are not independent because you are
almost entirely owned by the industry? Do you think there is a
case for separation from that industry, changing Nirex into an
(Mr Murray) There is a case, and it would be naïve
to say that there was not. When we talk to the public and when
we do surveys, time and again people raise this issue with us,
it is a central issue with people, `how can you do what you do,
how can you advise the industry and set standards and specifications
for them if you are owned by the industry, that's simply not a
credible position?'. On the other hand, the industry, it could
be argued, are taking responsibility for the whole problem by
owning the vehicle that was set up in the first place to try to
deal with it. And we are going to debate this point at a Board
meeting, the one I was referring to earlier, at the beginning
of December, we are going to try to set Nirex's view forward for
the DEFRA consultation on this kind of point; and, until that
discussion, I would feel that, actually, it is wrong of me to
prejudge that. But, the point that you are making, it is a big
issue for the whole DEFRA consultation. Let us not call it Nirex,
it is Nirex's successor, the waste management organisation, in
the long term, who have to look at that issue.
23. Is Nirex still in favour of deep repositories?
(Dr Hooper) I think, given the very long-lived radionuclides
in the waste that we have historically had a remit for, that it
does offer a very good solution to the safe, long-term management,
and this is on the basis of work that both we and others have
carried out. But what we do accept is that, where we are now,
it is just one option which would have to be considered, hopefully,
on an equal basis with a number of other options, some of which
might well play a role in also ensuring the safe, long-term management
24. Given that it is an option that you would
like to have within your armoury, and my colleague just talked
about a little bit more transparency on your side and becoming
clear about where the identified sites from the eighties might
be, but there are only certain sites within the UK that could
be used, are there not, because of the geology of the United Kingdom?
(Dr Hooper) The requirement to retain the wastes,
ideally within the engineered part of a disposal facility but
certainly within the deep rock part, means that you are looking
for certain characteristics which are not available right across
the deep geology of the United Kingdom. We have given the Committee
a schematic diagram of what we call the'phased geological disposal
concept', but what we judge at the moment is that we could dispose
of the intermediate-level wastes that we are responsible for,
within such a concept, in about 30 per cent of the deep geology
of the United Kingdom, and I must stress, on a technical basis.
25. Given that it is on a technical basis 30
per cent of the UK could have them, in realistic terms, there
are only a limited number of sites that would be practical to
do this in; have you numbered how many practical sites you could
look at for this facility, for a deep repository?
(Mr Murray) No, we have not done that.
26. You have not?
(Mr Murray) Because that is part of the discussion
that the UK as a society needs to have. You are raising a very
good point. Technically, it is 30 per cent, but there are a whole
host of other issues to be brought in, social issues, political
issues, issues to do with devolution, for instance, and, quite
simply, it would be wrong for Nirex to have even done any work
at all, at this stage, on that kind of basis; and, I can tell
you, we have not done that work because that needs to emerge from
a credible process. And we see the DEFRA process as the beginning
of what, hopefully, will be a credible process, where everybody
plays a part in the discussion, and all these factors that you
are talking about can be brought in.
27. But if you want to move to being seen as
more transparent, more sort of friendly, more talking about the
debate that needs to go on, do you not think it would be helpful
that you made available your thinking on where these sites may
be? Because you talked earlier about needing to have discussion
about how the Finns have been very successful with their, if you
like, tit for tat arrangements, of community benefit or the veto
option that a community has, but you need actually to identify
where these sites are, in your thinking, and where they, logically,
practically, economically and geologically, could be, so that
those communities could start to think about it?
(Mr Murray) I do not think so. I think that what we
need is a debate of all the issues that you have referred to,
so we need a debate about social issues, we need a debate about
the veto; and it is certainly not the place of Nirex to prejudge
any of that, that sort of flies in the face of what we are trying
to do, of the kind of approach that we are trying to adopt, actually.
We believe that there are more important people than Nirex in
this part of the debate; we need to listen to the local authorities,
we need to listen to the ordinary people, as they voice what their
issues are, and that these then need to be built into any process,
if you choose deep disposal, that then seeks to identify a site.
That is the way round to do it. It is simply not our place to
do it, that would be wrong.
28. Okay; so why have Finland been successful
in being able to have deep repositories and actually get communities
on board and we have signally failed to; we did not even get the
agreement for the characterisation facility?
(Mr Murray) And I think that the reason that we did
not, and the reason the Finns have succeeded, is to do with these
very social questions that you are referring to. I think, where
the Finns went, a number of years ago, was that they realised
that they had to be open, transparent, with what they were doing,
they had to listen to what people were worried about, and they
took on board a process that was much more open than we ever had,
as we were trying to get to the rock laboratory; and I have no
hesitation in saying that. Some of the lessons that we would like
to put into the new process are to do with the fact that an organisation
charged with the kind of work that Nirex was doing has got to
be far more open about what it was doing, the processes around
it have to be open. Finland, for instance, let me give you an
example of how the Finns dealt with site selection; the Finns
announced their sites when they were at the stage of something
like 100 sites.
29. Well we are at about 30, that you have identified
could be possible, are we not?
(Mr Murray) No.
30. In the eighties?
(Mr Murray) No.
31. Had you not identified, in the 1980s, about
30 sites that could be possible?
(Mr Murray) We identified 500 sites and then we worked
our way down to, effectively, two sites. But what I am saying
is, that was all done in a way that was not obvious, it was not
obvious to people how we got through the refining process; and
my argument is that in the future we should adopt the Finnish
process, set out how you are going to choose a site, so openly,
step one. The second thing is, tell people what the sites are,
so you look at the 30 per cent of the landmass, you decide how
many sites there are, announce that, so that people can get ready,
so that people can follow you, and then refine it down.
32. I am just a little concerned that, you make
quite clear that we have to be more transparent, that the process
for us to be successful, as the Finns have been, is for everybody
to see how the process is developing, and yet, in answer to the
question from Mr Hall, about the sort of dump sites,'why don't
you come clean about where those lists are?' and the answer to
the questions that I have been asking you about what provisional
sites could be used for deep repositories, you are saying, `no,
we shouldn't publish, we shouldn't tell people.' Well, that flies
in the face of saying, the process,'in order to be successful,
we should be more open and transparent,' does it not?
(Mr Murray) No. I think we are at cross purposes,
probably. If we are going to have a new site-selection process,
my view is that all the sites should be named from the beginning;
but what you were asking me was, `could you not start before we
begin and could Nirex not tell us which are the most likely sites
in the previous site selection exercise?', now that is an entirely
33. Have you published the named sites, and
will you do so?
(Mr Murray) Which ones?
34. That you have identified?
(Mr Murray) Do you mean all the 12?
(Mr Murray) No; not until there is a discussion around
the whole issue, and the Government has a discussion, and they
think it through as well. Because there is an issue about old
sites, because that is an old process.
36. What do you mean by the word `safe', in
the context of deep repository and other forms of disposal of
(Dr Hooper) What we mean by `safe' is that, whatever
disposal or management concept is come up with, it will contain
and retard radionuclides, so that they have decayed away to levels
that are decided as safe by the regulators before they reach the
surface, the environment where people live. So we are very much
using regulatory standards as a benchmark for what we describe
37. And, in terms of knowing whether any of
the approaches that you are advocating to deal with these issues
have the remotest chance of being successful, can you give any
examples, outside of Finland, where the kind of discussion that
you have just entertained, or Diana Organ, has actually convinced
a group of people who thought something, by your terms, was unsafe
that it was safe?
(Mr Murray) In Sweden, they are not quite at the same
stage as Finland, they are down to, I think, three sites, at the
moment, and the Government has just announced that they are happy
that our sister in Sweden, SKB, continues; in America, you have
facility, which is open and running for long-lived military waste,
and that is in New Mexico.
(Dr Hooper) That is in New Mexico, and,
in fact, those are the wastes that are most similar to the ones
that Nirex has had a remit for seeking a long-term management
(Mr Murray) And a key part of that process,
where they were able to open the WIPP facility, was the level
of dialogue that they had, actually, at the local level, in particular.
38. Just for the benefit of the Committee, could
you just give us a quick word picture of the sort of environment
of that, because I think that some of the original sites which
were dropped in 1983 were effectively in quite densely-populated
areas, whereas, on the other hand, places like Sellafield and
Dounreay, which in the past again have been considered, are in
relatively depopulated areas? Could you just give us a flavour
of where success has been in the US, is it sparse, or less populated?
(Mr Murray) Let us start with Finland again and run
through the three again. In Finland, actually, the final site,
the site that they are looking at, is in a relatively populated
area, it is in the south of Finland, where all the people are,
it is not in the locality, it is not very populated, but it is
in the south, it is not in the north where there are hardly any
people at all. And the same thing has happened in Sweden. Now
I am not so clear about New Mexico, I do not think that is very
populated at all.
(Dr Hooper) New Mexico is, I do not think, quite correctly,
desert, but I think, superficially, that is how you would describe
it, it is a very barren part of south west United States.
39. A final question. I am intrigued by your
first point, about engaging this wider part of the population,
and yet do you not think that the only way you are truly going
to engage people is once the populations who might be affected
by deep repositories do actually know that, because how would
they know whether to engage in this wider, pre-front-end-loaded,
call it what you like, consultation, in the first place? Because
people usually respond to what they see is a risk or a threat,
and, if they did not know there was one there, how would they
know to join in?
(Mr Murray) It is a good question. What really needs
to happen is that we, as a society, as a whole, need to decide
whether we want to do this or not, essentially; it is not enough
to look at it at a local level, there needs to be a decision by
us, as a whole, that we are going to take on this issue, that
we are going to look at the waste and say, `the waste exists,
we have to do something about it.' Now that is what has happened
in Finland, for instance; as a society, they have decided, `there
is a problem, we are going to tackle it, we're going to take our
time about it but we are going to tackle it.' And the same in
Sweden. And that is why I believe it is so important that there
is the national debate as well as trying to focus it down locally.
We tried, the last time round, to work only at a local level,
you had never heard of it, until we pop up in the news every so
often, but, essentially, it was a local strategy that we were
trying to follow, and that was a huge mistake, because you have
to have a national backdrop to it. And some of the decisions that
we were talking about earlier, when you were talking about, `do
you give community benefit,' for instance, that most certainly
needs to be decided at a national level, it cannot be something
that is dealt with, you know, the developer to the local council,
it would not be legitimate, I think.
10 1 WIPP is the acronym for the Waste Isolation Pilot
Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which has been licensed by the
United States Environmental Protection Agency for the disposal
of about 175 thousand cubic metres of "transuranic"
uranium-and-plutonium-bearing wastes. Back