Memorandum submitted by Greenpeace UK
1. The current debate about future energy
policy and the suggestion by Government that the UK might embark
on a new nuclear power programme makes the issues that surround
radioactive waste pressing. Given the ignominious collapse of
the long standing dumping policy in 1997, it is clear that a new,
substantial and fundamentally different policy is needed.
2. In January 1998, Greenpeace submitted
detailed evidence on radioactive waste management to the House
of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The submission summarised
the key reasons why the previous policy failed, and set out an
alternative policy framework. This calls for the production of
radioactive waste to end and for existing wastes to be stored
in managed, monitored and retrievable above ground stores. The
full submission is recorded in HL Paper 89, Session 1997-98, and
a copy has been appended to this paper.
3. The Government's recent consultation
paper follows on from that House of Lords inquiry. The paper seeks
to ask "how should the UK go about dealing with radioactive
waste?" However the one key question the Government fails
to ask is probably the most important of all. This is: "Given
that there is no solution to radioactive waste, should we halt
its production?" Without an affirmative answer to this later
question, it will be impossible to formulate an adequate or workable
answer to the former question. Only when it has been agreed that
nuclear waste production will end permanently could there be even
a chance of reaching agreement about how to manage the radioactive
wastes that already exist.
4. To illustrate the case, a prospective
host community or region is unlikely to accept a nuclear waste
dump or storage site in its area if the size and scale of the
facility are not known or if it is only the first of many. Residents
would correctly see that the continued operation of the nuclear
industry would add to the burden that they, their children and
possibly other communities elsewhere in the country would inevitably
face over the passage of time.
5. This "no end in sight" dynamic
serves to perpetuate an already disingenuous relationship between
government and the public on nuclear issues, thus preventing the
meaningful development of a new policy. Greenpeace therefore asks
the Committee to recommend that the Government adopt a permanent
phase-out of nuclear production as the first step towards developing
its new radioactive waste management policy.
6. The consultation paper issued in September
2001 had in fact been prepared approximately one year earlier.
The delay in its release is thought to be because of the 2001
General Election and the Government's desire not to raise difficult
or controversial issues just before or during such a period. There
having been such a delay suggests the Government remains nervous
about the public handling of radioactive waste issues and leads
to the suspicion that the same manipulative attitude, driven by
the electoral cycle, could continue in the future. It also undermines
the desire for transparency as stated in the consultation paper
7. The general timetableup to around
2007could be an attempt by Government to postpone again
otherwise difficult issues, and particularly so at a time when
pro-nuclear forces are gathering for an attempted come back.
8. There is no need to delay consideration
of the principal question: should we as a nation stop producing
nuclear waste? Over the next few months the Prime Minister will
consider the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit's
report into UK energy objectives. A nuclear phase out policy could
be and in our view should be adopted as part of the package of
recommendations that is expected to go forward.
Plutonium and Sellafield MOX Plant
9. Plutonium has no commercial or practical
value and should be declared a waste, both by the UK and in other
relevant countries. The House of Lords report in 1999 made the
same recommendation in respect of the UK, save for there being
a "minimum strategic stock".
There is a strong case for the UK Government taking this decision
soon and ahead of any other conclusions the radioactive waste
policy review may make. Such a move would reinforce the need for
the cessation of plutonium separation ("reprocessing")
at Sellafield, and allow the debate about how best to manage existing
UK stocks of plutonium to begin properly.
10. The Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) is only
approved for use on behalf of overseas customers so, as long as
reprocessing continues, the stockpile of UK owned plutonium will
continue to rise to an expected total inventory of around 100,000kg
by the end of the decade. This in itself presents a substantial
radioactive waste management burden. It takes only around 5kg
to produce a nuclear weapon.
11. MOX is not a commercial product, being
much more expensive than conventional fuel. The "market"
for MOX is limited to those countries and utilities that historically
have signed reprocessing contracts. Where reprocessing customers
have elected to use MOX, it is only intended as a means of "sweeping
under the carpet" otherwise embarrassing large volumes of
separated plutonium. The UK's privatised nuclear generator, British
Energy, does not plan to use MOX and would be unlikely to change
its position without a special subsidy.
12. The UK needs to begin an evaluation
on how best to condition its plutonium waste for the longer-term.
This particular waste management practice is something that BNFL
could diversify into as part of a new business model based on
the clean up and decommissioning of nuclear sites.
13. The huge losses made by the SMP are
only a part of wider malaise in BNFL. The company has reported
significant overall losses in the last two years setting a trend
that Greenpeace expects will continue. BNFL admits it is "technically
bankrupt". In accounting terms, it is kept afloat by the
promise of future payments from Government to cover its liabilities.
The DTI is expected to supervise BNFL on behalf of the taxpayer
but in our view it has failed to do so.
14. BNFL's forward planning document, its
"Corporate Plan", is submitted for approval by the DTI
every year. Greenpeace believes this document should be a matter
of public record, as it would allow interested parties to judge
independently if the company's plans were allowing the situation
regarding radioactive waste to deteriorate or to improve. Ministers
have consistently refused to release the Corporate Plan.
15. There is a direct conflict between the
claims being put in the DEFRA September consultation paper and
some of the measures contained in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and
Security Bill which, at the time of writing, is beginning its
passage through Parliament. On the one hand, the Government is
seeking through transparency to develop policies which it says
"inspire public support and confidence". On the other
hand, the Government is attempting to reinforce "business
as usual" for the nuclear industry by threatening severe
punishments to those who disclose information about nuclear sites
and materials. Although this situation is clearly unacceptable,
it will not affect the determination of Greenpeace to continue
to speak out about the inherent danger of the nuclear industry.
1 House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
Report on Management of Nuclear Waste, HL 89, Session 1997-98,
pp 150-154. [Not printed] Back
House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report on Management
of Nuclear Waste, HL 41, Session 1998-99, p 68. Back