Memorandum submitted by the Radioactive
Waste Management Advisory Committee
1.1 The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee (RWMAC) is an independent national advisory committee
whose terms of reference are:
"To advise the Secretary of State for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs, and, in relation to devolved matters,
to advise the Minister for Environment and Rural Development in
Scotland and the Minister for the Environment in Wales, on the
technical and environmental implications of major issues concerning
the development and implementation of an overall policy for all
aspects of the management of civil radioactive waste, including
research and development: and on any such matters referred to
it by these persons".
RWMAC's views on the three questions posed by
the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
are as follows.
2. THE TIMETABLE
2.1 There are currently a number of deficits
in radioactive waste management policy. These apply to policy
for the control of radioactive discharges and the remediation
of radioactively contaminated land (both on and off nuclear sites),
as well as that for the long-term management of solid radioactive
wasteas covered by "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely"1.
Whilst initiatives are underway to decide all these elements of
radioactive waste management policy, it is RWMAC's view that,
in recent years, the initiatives have been taking far too long
to bring to fruition. That said, the timescales proposed henceforth
in "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" are probably
of the right order given the work that needs to be done and the
difficult decisions that have to be made. These points are elaborated
in the following paragraphs of the response to this question.
2.2 It should also be noted that there are
important inter-relationships between the solid waste management,
discharges control and contaminated land policy elements, and
in practice, therefore, these elements need to be considered in
a holistic way. For instance, treatment of radioactive wastes,
to put them into a suitable solid form, and nuclear site decommissioning
will both lead to radioactive discharges. Decommissioning includes
the remediation of large areas of contaminated ground on nuclear
sites, and the policy and standards for doing so will affect the
amounts of solid radioactive waste that need to be dealt with.
2.3 That said, RWMAC welcomes the publication
of the "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" consultation
document in September 2001, as the first step forward on the road
to deciding future UK policy for the long-term management of its
solid radioactive waste. The policy for solid intermediate level
radioactive waste (ILW) has essentially been in a state of limbo
since the collapse of the Nirex repository programme in March
1997 (ie, for more than one complete Government lifetime). The
failure of the Nirex programme also has implications for the long-term
management of high level radioactive waste (HLW) discussed in
the 1995 Cm 2919 Government White Paper2. In practice, there needs
to be a clear policy for management of all categories of the UK's
radioactive wastes. "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely"
has taken a relatively long time to producethe Government's
response3 to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and
Technology's report on the Management of Nuclear Waste, published
in October 1999, indicated that the consultation document would
be published in "early 2000".
2.4. In the meantime, RWMAC has been assembling
its own ideas on the way in which future policy for the long-term
management of UK's solid radioactive waste should be decided.
This has been set out in "The Radioactive Waste Management
Advisory Committee's Advice to Ministers on the Process for Formulation
of Future Policy for the Long-Term Management of UK Solid Radioactive
Waste" supplied to Ministers in July 2001 and published in
September 20014. This advice is referred to in the Government's
consultation document. RWMAC is currently considering precisely
how it should respond to the "Managing Radioactive Waste
Safely" consultation in light of this advice.
2.5 RWMAC's view is that any programme for
deciding solid radioactive waste management policy in today's
public opinion climate needs to be substantive, logically structured,
comprehensive in its consideration of the options, and able to
deliver a result that can be seen to flow logically from the process.
2.6 RWMAC also believes that there are two
key constituencies that will need to be involved in deciding policy.
The first is vested interest groups, those who normally respond
to consultations. The second is the much larger constituency of
members of the general public, who might not normally get involved
in consultation exercises. It is seen to be particularly important
to involve the public in this instance, since a demonstrable understanding
of the public's views will be a key element in legitimising the
choice of future policy in this obviously controversial area.
2.7 It will be important to involve members
of the public throughout the policy formulation process, including
from the very start when the means of deciding policy is itself
debated. Relying on written consultation responses alone will
not be enough, because of the probably very limited numbers of
members of the public who will choose to submit their views. A
range of techniques for achieving wider public involvement, which
will need to be applied on a "horses for courses" basis,
are discussed in RWMAC's report4.
2.8 RWMAC believes that the process for
the formulation of future policy for the long-term management
of all the UK's solid radioactive wastes should provide for all
the practicable options to be assessed against a set of common
evaluation criteria. To date, consideration has focussed unduly
on single options, for example, underground disposal of ILW as
a result of the Nirex repository initiative. Both the list of
practicable options, and the criteria against which they are evaluated,
should be developed through a process of open discussion.
2.9 A possible five-stage approach to this
assessment is set out in RWMAC's policy formulation process advice4.
Possible evaluation criteria are discussed in Annex 2, paragraph
2.13, of the advice. The set criteria is wide-ranging and intended
to cover all future risks and relevant considerations.
2.10 RWMAC also believes that the policy
formulation process should be overseen by an independent or, at
least, balanced interest, body that is widely accepted as being
capable of representing the public interest. This body would have
responsibility for overseeing public participation events (including
provision of information to facilitate public understanding of
the issues), co-ordinating and commissioning reviews of existing
scientific knowledge and required research, and assessment of
policy implications. Ultimately, recommendations on policy would
be submitted for Government to consider. The possible inter-actions
with a Liabilities Management Authority, should one be established,
would need to be considered.
2.11 This represents a challenging programme
of work. However, it is essential that the process should not
be allowed to extend indefinitely. There is a need for proper
understanding of the aims and objectives, sound management of
the process and adequate resourcing (both in terms of manpower
and funding). Planned timescales must reflect the needs of the
work, but must also be clearly defined and adhered to. At first
sight, the two-year period, from 2002 to 2004, indicated for Stage
2 of the proposed Programme of Action set out in "Managing
Radioactive Waste Safely" does not seem unreasonable.
2.12 In addition to UK policy for the long-term
management of solid radioactive waste, there is a need for the
Government's policy for control of radioactive discharges to the
environment to be clarified as soon as possible. For a number
of years now, RWMAC has been saying that the principles behind
the control of radioactive discharges have been insufficiently
clear5. In the Committee's view, this has stemmed essentially
from lack of clear statements of Government policy.
2.13 RWMAC expressed the same concerns in
its evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment,
Transport and Regional Affairs inquiry into the work of the Environment
Agency. In its May 2000 report, the Select Committee said6:
"It appears that the Agency is working almost
in a vacuum where regulatory principles are concerned with the
result that neither they, nor those they regulate, nor the general
public, can be clear of what is required in this area. We strongly
urge the Government to produce as soon as possible, in consultation
with the Agency, a clear statement of regulatory policy and practice
in the area of radioactive substances and waste".
2.14 Subsequently, during the course of
2000, the Government released two consultation documents on radioactive
discharges policya draft UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges
2001-20207 and draft Statutory Guidance (to the Environment Agency)
on the Regulation of Radioactive Discharges into the Environment
from Nuclear Licensed Sites8. These documents aim to reflect the
objectives for reduction of radioactive discharges to the marine
environment agreed at the OSPAR meeting in Sintra in July 19989.
RWMAC has welcomed both initiatives as a means of ultimately helping
to clarify the principles behind the control of radioactive discharges,
although has raised some substantive concerns in respect of both
the draft Strategy and Statutory Guidance in its consultation
responses10,11. For the reasons given in its responses, RWMAC
does not feel that the current drafts provide the clear exposition
of principles behind the control of radioactive discharges that
2.15 The OSPAR Sintra agreement was signed
almost three and a half years ago and yet its precise implications
for the UK's discharge control policy have still not been fully
assessed and published, There are no obvious signs of either the
full Strategy or Statutory Guidance statements emerging, nor is
it clear what timescales the Government currently sees for their
production. In the meantime, the Environment Agency, as the discharge
control regulator in England and Wales, is having to take decisions
in respect of the latest authorisation for the UK's largest nuclear
site, Sellafield, on the basis of the draft Strategy and draft
Statutory Guidance material12.
2.16 In addition to solid radioactive wastes
and radioactive discharges, a third area where Government radioactive
waste policy is taking a long time to be decided is in respect
of the remediation of radioactively contaminated land. In February
1998, the Government issued a consultation document "Control
and Remediation of Radioactively Contaminated Land"13. The
outcome of that consultation, and the proposals for carrying the
initiative through, were never published. There has been some
ongoing work through the Safegrounds project14, on the management
of radioactively contaminated land on nuclear and defence sites,
but this still seems some considerable way from fruition. In the
meantime. decisions on clean-up standards are having to be taken
on an essentially ad hoc basis for decommissioning and land remediation
2.17 Overall, it is recognised that the
formulation of radioactive waste management policy, including
the clarification of regulatory principles, is a difficult and
sensitive matter. Successive Governments have, nevertheless, exhibited
an unwillingness or inability to progress these matters to completion
to reasonable timescales.
3. WHAT DIFFICULTIES
3.1 The main difficulties stem from the
deficits in current radioactive waste management policy discussed
previously. First, these deficits prejudice effective and efficient
day-to-day decision-making in respect of management of existing
Second, they obfuscate the need to deal with
future radioactive waste liabilities and its cost. These issues
are considered in what follows.
3.2 In respect of more immediate day-to-day
waste management, the regulators need to be clear of Government
policies so that they can regulate in a transparent effective
and efficient manner. This is also true of waste producers, so
that they can plan their future business requirements (waste producers
include not only the nuclear operators but also "small users"15
of radioactivity such as hospitals and educational establishments)investment
decisions are being taken continually and these must be suitably
directed. And the public has a right to have clearly explained
to it how its interests are being served.
3.3 For example, given the uncertainty concerning
policy for the long-term management of solid ILW following the
collapse of the Nirex underground repository programme in March
1997, are the interim Government objectives for the conditioning,
packaging and storage of waste as clearly stated as they should
be? The Nirex "Letters of Comfort" system (which is
designed to provide assurance that performance and safety standards
for the packaging of radioactive waste are being met) still apply
and, recently, in guidance to its inspectors, the Health and Safety
Executive (HSE) endorsed the Nirex 150-year containment objective
for interim storage. But does the Government have a view of this
issue and, if so. where is it stated? It remains unclear to RWMAC
whether the tension between the Environment Agency's past policy
for seeking to delay conditioning, so as not to foreclose future
management options, has yet been sufficiently reconciled with
the HSE's policy, as on-site regulator. The HSE's policy endorses
early conditioning and storage in a "passively safe"
form given that a relatively long period of storage now looks
inevitable. RWMAC is strongly in favour of moving to passively
safe storage and believes that the two policy approaches can,
and should, be reconciled.
3.4 RWMAC has recently embarked on two joint
studies with another national advisory committeethe Nuclear
Safety Advisory Committee (NuSAC)that will serve to shed
further light on the issues discussed above and identity needs
and opportunities for improvement. These are:
a study of the requirements for conditioning.
packaging and storage of UK intermediate level radioactive waste;
a review of current arrangements
for civil regulation of nuclear safety and management of radioactive
materials and radioactive wastes within the UK.
The first results of these studies are anticipated
for Spring 2002.
3.5 In respect of the control of discharges,
there is a further important example of regulatory, and thus producer,
problems caused by absence of clear Government policies. The HSE,
as onsite operators, regulates according to the Tolerability of
Risk principles. These are based on the tenet that there is an
upper limit beyond which a risk would be intolerable, regardless
of the benefit which society derived from the activity involved,
and a lower level, below which the risk is negligible in comparison
with the other risks we run in our daily livesand therefore
broadly acceptable. The area in between is the region in which
risk is tolerable only it is "as low as reasonably practicable"
(ALARP)ie, to reduce it further would involve disproportionately
high cost. In the case of radioactive wastes, risk stems from
radiation dose, which leads to increased risks of contracting
cancer. Discharges of different radionuclides have different radiation
3.6 On the other hand, the draft National
Discharges Strategy7 seeks progressive and substantial reductions
in discharges, with no direct reference to the radiation dose
that they give rise to, and its risk implications. There is no
identified limit to this continuing downward pressure.
3.7 The RWMAC small user report15 draws
attention to the threat to services in the health sector that
are posed applying continuous downward pressure on radioactive
discharges without considering the balance of benefit versus risk.
The strategy envisaged in Department of Health policy for modernising
the NHS is to extend the use of nuclear medicine facilities, potentially
increasing radioactive discharges.
3.8 In its response to the proposed National
Discharges Strategy7, RWMAC observed10:
"RWMAC believes that it is right for the
Government and the public to expect improvements in technology
to be able to deliver progressively lower levels of radioactive
discharges than in the past. It is clear that what has been regarded
as acceptable in the past is no longer regarded as acceptable
today. The development of technology is the primary vehicle for
delivery of such improvement and there must be appropriate pressure
on industry to continue to invest in the development and use of
Equally, as levels of discharges diminish, so
does the of risk to the public. It then becomes increasingly important
to ensure that a justifiable balance between risk, cost and practicable
benefit is also maintained. Otherwise, there is the risk of wasting
resources. This is also one of the objectives behind the government's
Regulatory Impact Assessment procedures for new legislation. RWMAC's
view is that the principles of such Assessment should apply equally
to areas of existing legislation. including the regulation of
The proposed Strategy is also acknowledged to
be based on the ICRP principle that radiological doses and risks
from a source of exposure are kept as low as reasonably achievable,
consistent with the relevant dose or target standard and have
been reduced to a level that reflects a balance between radiological
and other factors, including social and economic factors (the
ALARA principle). The latter part of the ALARA principle definitionthat
is the need to take into account social and economic factorsthus
also reflects the need to balance risk, cost and practicable benefit,
subject to relevant social factors.
What is of some concern to RWMAC is that, in
the light of this need, the proposed Strategy does not appear
to acknowledge that there will inevitably come a point where the
benefit of further reductions in discharge levels are likely to
be outweighed by the cost of their achievement. RWMAC believes
that the Government must be clearer on this aspect of ALARA application,
namely how it views the trade-off between the three primary Strategy
and cost, either in its eventual strategy or in its guidance to
the environment agencies".
3.9 What RWMAC is again saying here is that
the absence of clearly stated and consistent Government radioactive
waste management policies is liable to prejudice transparent,
effective and cost-efficient regulation.
3.10 A third example of this problem is
in respect of decommissioning and clean-up of contaminated sites.
The Government and the regulators are currently in the process
of considering the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan (DSRP) produced
by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, itself a Government-funded
body. The proposed Plan, if accepted, could cost in the region
of £4 billion. Thus, in the foreseeable future, decisions
are going to have to be made on clean-up needs in the absence
of clear policy and standards for the remediation of radioactively
contaminated land. There will be a need to decide how much contaminated
soil will need to be dug up and how it is to be managedclearly
expensive tasks. If erroneous decisions are taken, they will,
potentially, need to be revisited at some future date. RWMAC's
view of the potential impacts of policy deficits on implementation
of the clean-up plan for Dounreay are discussed further in its
advice to Ministers on the DSRP16.
3.11 The "Managing Radioactive Waste
Safely" consultation concentrates on the longer term. In
the shorter term, however, there are large quantities of unconditioned
wastes stored in tanks and silos in old buildings that require
to be treated. The kinds of policy deficits described above effectively
prevent such work being planned on an assured basis and, in particular,
the apparent lack of cohesion between the HSE and the environment
agencies' regimes seems liable to prejudice the achievement of
optimum operational and environmental choices between treatment
3.12 Looking further ahead, the policy deficits
complicate liabilities estimation and provisioning. How can the
cost of site clean-up be estimated when land remediation standards
remain unclear? How can the cost of dealing finally with ILW and
HLW be estimated when the eventual destination of these materials
remains unknown? (The eventual fate of LLW, through disposal to
a facility such as Drigg, having, for the moment at least, been
provided for and costed.) Such estimation will be complicated
further if additional materialssuch as plutonium, uranium
and spent fuelcome to be designated as waste, as is mooted
in the "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" consultation
3.13 In practice, since 80-90 per cent of
all radioactive waste liabilities are owned by Governmentthrough
organisations such as MoD, UKAEA, BNFL and Urencothey will
presumably have to be dealt with through the public purse whatever
the cost. In an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 18 October
2001, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
gave an estimated cost for UK radioactive waste management liabilities
of £86 billion. RWMAC believes that there must be considerable
uncertainties associated with this figure given the factors outlined
3.14 RWMAC gave some consideration as to
the amounts of plutonium and uranium that might ultimately be
produced in its May 1999 report on the waste implications of reprocessing17.
In this report, RWMAC reiterated views on plutonium given in its
response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and
Technology report on the management of nuclear waste18. The response
"The RWMAC supports the Select Committee's
recommendation that Government should develop and declare a clear
policy for the management of the UK's stock of separated plutonium.
It agrees that there can only be a limited use for the stock in
the foreseeable future and that the remainder of the plutonium
should be declared a waste unless a credible reason for doing
otherwise can be given. This would, of course, have implications
for the way in which spent nuclear fuel is handled within the
UK and the case for its reprocessing.
It is certainly true that the management of plutonium
from past and committed actions represents a significant problem.
However, the waste implications of future activities such as reprocessing
must also be fully considered.
Debate and resolution of these issues should
be undertaken alongside the process of developing policy for the
management of currently declared wastes. In particular, work will
need to be put in hand to identify options for dealing with the
separated plutonium if it is to be ultimately declared as waste,
and its possible implications for wider radioactive waste management
policy. A start on this issue has been made as part of the Government's
High Level Waste and Spent Fuel Disposal Research Strategy Project"19.
3.15 RWMAC will be giving consideration
to the nuclear operators' statements on possible future uses of
bath plutonium and uranium that appear in the "Managing Radioactive
Waste Safety" consultation document, and setting out definitive
views of them in its consultation response. If any of the stocks
of these materials were to be declared as wastes, the means and
costs of dealing with them would remain to be decided. "Managing
Radioactive Waste Safety" is silent on these issues. Whether
or not these materials are declared wastes will inevitably impact
on the current debate about future UK energy policy, including
security of electricity supply.
4. THE IMPACT
MOX PRODUCTION AT
4.1 None of these issues is likely, in itself,
to be a primary determinant of future radioactive waste management
4.2 The currently-designated wastes arising
from all existing UK nuclear plants, together with past arisings,
should be accounted for in the UK Radioactive Waste Inventory,
compiled jointly by Nirex and DEFRA20. ILW and LLW from decommissioning
of existing plants are unlikely to cause any novel problems vis
a vis arisings from the preceding operation of the plants.
However, RWMAC has commented that additional capacity over and
above that of Drigg will be required for LLW disposal at some
future point21. There must also be some question of how accurately
arisings from decommissioning and site clean-up can be accounted
for at the present time. RWMAC will be carrying out a review of
the accuracy of the Radioactive Waste Inventory as part of its
2001-2002 work programme. The timing, and hence cost, of dealing
with arisings also remain uncertain in the absence of formally
approved nuclear site decommissioning plans. Where the wastes
will be held, pending a decision on their long-term management,
and the nature of the facilities required, will also need to be
4.3 As regards the Sellafield MOX Plant
(SMP), RWMAC understands Environment Agency estimates to be that
SMP would add around 2 per cent by volume annually to Sellafield
arisings of plutonium-contaminated waste. It has also been estimated
that SMP would add less then 1 per cent to total aerial discharges
from the Sellafield site, and less than one-thousandth of 1 per
cent to all annual liquid discharges from Sellafield. That is,
relatively, it would give rise to extremely limited additional
4.4 For new nuclear power plants, arisings
of both solid radioactive wastes and discharges would depend on
the number and type of any new reactors. A full study would be
required to determine the precise types and quantities of waste
that any new reactors would give rise to.
4.5 In practice, any decisions on future
policy should, insofar as is reasonably practicable, incorporate
sufficient flexibility to allow for different future new build
Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
1. Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals
for Developing a Policy for Managing Solid Radioactive Waste in
the UK, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs et
al, September 2001.
2. Review of Radioactive Waste Management
Policy: Final Conclusions (Cm 2919), HMSO, July 1995.
3. The Government Response to the House
of Lords Select Committee Report on the Management of Nuclear
Waste, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions,
4. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Advice to Ministers on the Process for Formulation
of Future Policy for the Long-Term Management of UK Solid Radioactive
Waste, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, September
5. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Advice on issues which need to be addressed in the
Guidance to be given to the Environment Agencies on the Principles
for determining Radioactive Waste Discharge Authorisationsthe
"Principles Document", Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions, July 1998.
6. House of Commons Environment, Transport
and Regional Affairs Committee Sixth Report: the Environment Agency,
The Stationery Office, May 2000.
7. UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges
2001-2020; Consultation Document, Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions, November 2000.
8. Statutory Guidance on the Regulation
of Radioactive Discharges to the Environment from Nuclear Licensed
Sites: a Consultation Paper, Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions, November 2000.
9. OSPAR Strategy with Regard to Radioactive
Substances, Paper No 1998/17, Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR
Commission, Sintra, Portugal, July 1998.
10. Twentieth Annual Report of the Radioactive
Waste Management Advisory Committee (Annex 9: Response to the
Government Consultation on the UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges
2001-2020), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions,
11. Twenty First Annual Report of the Radioactive
Waste Management Advisory Committee (Annex 5: RWMAC Response to
the Consultation on Statutory Guidance on Regulation of Radioactive
Discharges into the Environment from Licensed Nuclear Sites),
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, October 2001.
12. Explanatory Document to Assist Public
Consultation on Proposals for the Future Regulation of Disposal
of Radioactive Waste for British Nuclear Fuels plc Sellafield,
The Environment Agency, July 2001.
13. Control and Remediation of Radioactively
Contaminated Land: a Consultation Paper, Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions, February 1998.
14. The "Safegrounds" Learning
Network has been set up to provide best practice guidance for
remediating radioactively contaminated land on nuclear and defence
sites. The network is run by CIRIA on the basis of support contributions
from various industry, regulatory and Government bodies. Details
can be found on the www.safegrounds.com website.
15. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Advice to Ministers on the Problems of Small Users
of Radioactive Materials, Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions, September 2000,
16. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Advice to Ministers on Restoration of the UKAEA Dounreay
Nuclear Site, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
17. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Advice to Minister s on the Radioactive Waste Implications
of Reprocessing, Department of the Environment, Transport and
the Regions, November 2000.
18. The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory
Committee's Response to the House of Lords Select Committee on
Science and Technology Report on the Management of Nuclear Waste,
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, May
19. An R & D Strategy for the Disposal
of High Level Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel, Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions (Report DETR/RAS/99.016),
20. The 1998 United Kingdom Radioactive
Waste Inventory", Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions and Nirex, July 1999.
21. Twenty First Annual Report of the Radioactive
Management Advisory Committee (Chapter 5: Management of UK Solid
Low Level Radioactive Waste), Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs, October 2001.
1 Essentially parallel reductions in the radioactive
content of discharges, radiation doses to the public, and concentrations
of radioactivity in the environment. Back