31 July 2006

Committee calls for immediate action on radioactive waste

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) has today published its final recommendations for the long-term management of the UK's radioactive waste and called for immediate action to begin their implementation.

After an exhaustive two and a half year programme of engagement with the public, stakeholders and the scientific community, the independent committee has produced a set of 15 recommendations [1] for consideration by DEFRA and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The key elements of the recommendations - which CoRWM regards as an interdependent package - are:

•  In the long term, disposal of radioactive waste deep underground, an option known as geological disposal

•  Robust interim storage, in recognition of the fact that the process leading to the creation of suitable facilities for disposal may take several decades

•  An equal partnership between government and potential host communities based on a willingness to participate

•  The immediate creation of an oversight body to begin the process of implementation

The recommendations provide, for the first time, a realistic roadmap to manage the UK's radioactive waste over the long term. They enjoy the unanimous support of the eleven CoRWM members, each of whom has brought to the process different expertise and perspectives including nuclear scientists, environmentalists, economists and lawyers.

Professor Gordon MacKerron, Chairman of CoRWM, said: "The Committee has worked tirelessly to assess a huge amount of information and analyse the views of a diverse range of people. The results of our engagement with stakeholders and the public since April have confirmed that our recommendations are scientifically and technically robust. They also provide the basis for inspiring wider public confidence in any future process."

"The UK has been creating radioactive waste for 50 years without any clear idea of what to do with it. We are confident that our recommendations provide the way forward. It will, however, take a long time to put in place all the component parts so now it's time to get on with the job."

The Committee agreed that deep disposal in an underground repository is the best available approach for long term management of the waste in terms of safety and security (the two issues of most importance to the public). However, it believes that a robust programme of interim storage is needed to safeguard the waste for 100 years or more, in case of delay or failure in a repository programme.

The Committee's remit does not include recommending specific sites. However, it has set out a process to determine where any facilities should be located. This process should include identifying parts of the UK with suitable geology in which to build a facility, the report says. Communities in those areas should then be invited to participate in discussions about potentially hosting it. This is likely to include providing the community with a package of measures to support participation.  The host community should have the right to withdraw from the process up to a pre-determined point and decisions would be subject to the ratification by the relevant elected bodies.

The recommendations apply to the estimated 470,000 cubic metres of waste that currently exist or will arise through decommissioning of current nuclear sites.

In producing its final report, the Committee felt it important to reiterate its position on new nuclear build:

"CoRWM takes no position on the desirability or otherwise of nuclear new build. We believe that future decisions on new build should be subject to their own assessment process, including consideration of waste. The public assessment process that should apply to any future new build proposals should build on the CoRWM process, and will need to consider a range of issues including the social, political and ethical issues of a deliberate decision to create new nuclear wastes."

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About CoRWM

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is an independent committee appointed in 2003 by the UK Government and devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its task is to review the options for managing the estimated 470,000 cubic metres of higher activity wastes for which there is currently no agreed long-term management route. CoRWM has also considered the implications for waste management if plutonium and uranium were to be treated as wastes, and of managing spent fuel without reprocessing. CoRWM has been asked to engage with the public, stakeholders and the scientific community and make final recommendations to Government on the agreed date of July 2006. Future decisions about the recommendations and policies will be made by Government.

Professor Gordon MacKerron is the Chair of the Committee.

The other members of the Committee are:

  • Dr Wynne Davies (Deputy Chair)
  • Mary Allan
  • Fred Barker
  • Professor Andrew Blowers OBE
  • Professor Brian D. Clark
  • Dr Mark Dutton
  • Colonel Fiona Walthall OBE
  • Professor Lynda Warren
  • Jenny Watson
  • Pete Wilkinson

The CoRWM Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Within the present state of knowledge, CoRWM considers geological disposal to be the best available approach for the long-term management of all the material categorised as waste in the CoRWM inventory when compared with the risks associated with other methods of management. The aim should be to progress to disposal as soon as practicable, consistent with developing and maintaining public and stakeholder confidence.

Recommendation 2: A robust programme of interim storage must play an integral part in the long-term management strategy. The uncertainties surrounding the implementation of geological disposal, including social and ethical concerns, lead CoRWM to recommend a continued commitment to the safe and secure management of wastes that is robust against the risk of delay or failure in the repository programme. Due regard should be paid to:

•  reviewing and ensuring security, particularly against terrorist attacks

•  ensuring the longevity of the stores themselves

•  prompt immobilisation of waste leading to passively safe waste forms

•  minimising the need for repackaging of the wastes

•  the implications for transport of wastes.

Recommendation 3: CoRWM recommends a flexible and staged decision-making process to implement the overall strategy, which includes a set of decision points providing for a review of progress, with an opportunity for re-evaluation before proceeding to the next stage.

Recommendation 4: There should be a commitment to an intensified programme of research and development into the long-term safety of geological disposal aimed at reducing uncertainties at generic and site-specific levels, as well as into improved means for storing wastes in the longer term.

Recommendation 5: The commitment to ensuring flexibility in decision making should leave open the possibility that other long-term management options (for example, borehole disposal) could emerge as practical alternatives. Developments in alternative management options should be actively pursued through monitoring of and/or participation in national or international R&D programmes.

Recommendation 6: At the time of inviting host communities to participate in the implementation process, the inventory of material destined for disposal must be clearly defined. Any substantive increase to this inventory (for example creation of waste from a new programme of nuclear power stations, or receipt of waste from overseas) would require an additional step in the negotiation process with host communities to allow them to take a decision to accept or reject any additional waste.

Recommendation 7: If a decision is taken to manage any uranium, spent nuclear fuel and plutonium as wastes, they should be immobilised for secure storage followed by geological disposal.

Recommendation 8: In determining what reactor decommissioning wastes should be consigned for geological disposal, due regard should be paid to considering other available and publicly acceptable management options, including those that may arise from the low level waste review.

Recommendation 9: There should be continuing public and stakeholder engagement, which will be essential to build trust and confidence in the proposed long-term management approach, including siting of facilities.

Recommendation 10: Community involvement in any proposals for the siting of long-term radioactive waste facilities should be based on the principle of volunteerism, that is, an expressed willingness to participate.

Recommendation 11: Willingness to participate should be supported by the provision of community packages that are designed both to facilitate participation in the short term and to ensure that a radioactive waste facility is acceptable to the host community in the long term. Participation should be based on the expectation that the well-being of the community will be enhanced.

Recommendation 12: Community involvement should be achieved through the development of a partnership approach, based on an open and equal relationship between potential host communities and those responsible for implementation.

Recommendation 13: Communities should have the right to withdraw from this process up to a pre-defined point.

Recommendation 14: In order to ensure the legitimacy of the process, key decisions should be ratified by the appropriate democratically elected body/bodies.

Recommendation 15: An independent body should be appointed to oversee the implementation process without delay.

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Read Stop Hinkley's Press Release in responce to these recommendations.