CHAPTER 3: SOME OPTIONS AND
THE UNITED KINGDOM'S VIEW ON WASTE OPTIONS
3.13 The United Kingdom's position on the options
mirrors the international one outlined above. It is not felt to
be worthwhile to conduct research on subduction zone disposal,
ice sheet disposal or ejection into space. We have signed and
ratified the international agreements which rule out seabed and
sub-seabed disposal. A watching brief is maintained on partitioning
and transmutation but it has been rejected as not feasible for
existing wastes, nor for those which will arise in the future
from present civil and defence nuclear programmes. The remaining
options are discussed below, firstly by outlining the views of
the United Kingdom advocates of variants of them.
THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY
3.14 The Agency believes that there should be an
integrated programme for the management of ILW and HLW, based
on geological disposal of these wastes (pp121-27). It recognises
that disposal might involve a period during which wastes are maintained
underground in a fully retrievable and monitored condition, to
allow further studies, before a repository is backfilled and sealed,
and supervision withdrawn. The instigation of an integrated programme
would not necessarily mean that all ILW and HLW would be placed
in the same repository.
3.15 The Agency considers that the United Kingdom
should now "get on with the job" of developing a deep
repository, using a stepwise approach based on sound science,
openness and public confidence. The first step would be to review
the science base and decide which repository concepts and geological
settings can be modelled with sufficient confidence to make an
initial safety case for disposal. This would lead into a site
selection process consisting of identification of potential locations,
surface investigations, underground investigations and eventually
repository construction. In the interim wastes would be stored
safely on the surface.
THE HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE
3.16 The HSE also thinks that the best long term
management option is disposal of ILW and HLW in a deep repository.
It would prefer repository development to proceed without undue
delay, so as to focus short-term waste management decisions and
to minimise the time for which wastes are stored on nuclear licensed
sites. It believes that the risks to the public and workers from
surface storage will always exceed those from a well-designed
and engineered repository (pp159-181).
3.17 The HSE also emphasises the need to carry on
and extend current programmes of retrieving wastes from unsatisfactory
facilities, and immobilisation and packaging of wastes so that
they can be stored safely for the time it is likely to take to
establish one or more deep repositories. A long delay in establishing
a repository could necessitate additional handling and packaging
of wastes which it would be preferable to avoid.
3.18 The HSE sees merit in establishing a new near-surface
disposal facility for short-lived intermediate level wastes, so
that these could be removed from nuclear sites at an earlier date
than would be possible if they were to be placed in a deep repository.
3.19 The nuclear industry
believes that disposal in a deep repository is the best long term
solution for ILW and HLW but now feels that development of a deep
repository should not be rushed (BNFL pp34-40, UKAEA pp313-317,
British Energy pp24-29). The industry emphasises that, once wastes
have been immobilised and packaged, they can be stored in modern
surface facilities for several decades. Wastes can also be kept
in a monitored and retrievable condition during the operational
period of the repository, which is likely to be a few decades.
In the industry's view the first step would be for the Government
to establish a consensus that geological disposal is the best
option and to confirm that this is the United Kingdom's policy.
This would be followed by an open and transparent site selection
process, with adequate national and local public consultation.
3.20 Disposal of ILW and
HLW in the same repository is seen as an attractive proposition.
The industry pointed out that the previous United Kingdom disposal
strategy might have required three repositories:
one for existing ILW (to be available in the first half of the
next century), one for HLW (to be available in the second half
of the next century), and one for ILW which will arise from Stage
3 of reactor decommissioning in the
century after that (p 28).
Waste Management Advisory Committee
3.21 The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee
(RWMAC) is very strongly in favour of geological disposal, seeing
it as the "only tenable option for long term management of
ILW and HLW within the context of sustainable development"
(pp 248-263). It has given detailed consideration to the organisational
structure, procedures and research required to establish a deep
repository in the United Kingdom (pp 248-262, 357-363).
3.22 RWMAC feel that the first step should be to
obtain agreement that deep disposal is the correct option for
the long-term management of ILW and HLW. This would be achieved
through analysis, discussion and public consultation, and could
take time (pp 357-363). The next step would be a Government statement
of policy and implementation of an Act of Parliament which sets
out the repository development process. We discuss this proposal
and the organisational structure proposed by RWMAC in Chapter
of Environmental Groups
3.23 Greenpeace is of the view that storage on the
surface is the least environmentally damaging and most responsible
option which is available at present (p 150-154). It believes
that this would allow future decisions to be taken with the benefit
of better knowledge of the environment and improved technologies.
It would also allow an integrated approach to the management of
all radioactive wastes. Greenpeace is firmly opposed to disposal
in a deep repository, saying that it inevitably involves future
contamination of the environment.
3.24 Friends of the Earth is of a similar view, seeing
surface storage for the next 50-100 years as the only practicable
way forward (PP 316-328). Such storage would be accompanied by
a scientific programme which would pass on an increasing knowledge
base to future generations and allow them to judge whether a better
option exists. Any future policy, strategy and practice should
cover all wastes. It believes that geological disposal is not
a viable option at present.
3.25 For both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
the cessation of waste creation, by ceasing reprocessing and closing
existing nuclear power stations, is a vital part of future waste
3.26 Environmental pressure groups local to nuclear
sites hold similar general views to the national groups but are
also concerned about issues which are specific to their sites.
Several groups have expressed dissatisfaction about the limited
information available to them on the types and quantities of waste
stored on site, and about deficiencies in accountability and consultation
(see, for example, p17, and paragraph 5.24).
United Kingdom Views
3.27 The views of the other organisations and individuals
who submitted evidence fall within the spectrum of those expressed
by the regulators, the industry, and Greenpeace and Friends of
the Earth. Trades Unions tend to favour geological disposal, provided
that there is much more emphasis on monitorability and retrievability,
both while a repository is operational and after it has been backfilled
and sealed (see, for example, pp189-191). Those local authorities
which favour geological disposal also require this emphasis. Other
local authorities express views which are closer to those of Friends
of the Earth and Greenpeace: they favour surface storage pending
further R&D before any choice of a longer term management
option is made (pp 88-93 and pp 218-224).
21 Health and Safety Executive Nuclear Safety Directorate,
Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Storage in the UK: A Review
by HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, November 1998. Back