Stop Hinkley's Response to Defra consultation:
'Managing nuclear waste safely: a framework for implementing geological disposal'
Stop Hinkley is a local campaigning group opposed to the nuclear industry which we believe adds too much burden in terms of nuclear waste to present and future generations compared to any benefits such as a one-off supply of electricity.
On principle we are opposed to the burial of nuclear waste which is guaranteed to resurface at some stage in the very long life of the fissile material, poisoning local communities.
A former Government nuclear advisor told us at a packed public meeting recently in Watchet, West Somerset, of the risks and misunderstandings surrounding the Government's plan to find a site to bury the UK's most toxic nuclear waste.
Over sixty people heard Pete Wilkinson , former member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, express his concern over the committee's recommendations to bury High Level Waste in a Deep Geological Repository. Even if geological conditions were not thought to be ideal at a site such as Hinkley Point, he suggested, the Government would still be keen to receive an offer from a willing community to host the repository and begin further exploration.
Mr Wilkinson, founder member of Greeenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth, highlighted important shortcomings which had not been addressed by the Government in its seeming haste to set up a solution to nuclear waste as a precursor to launching a new generation of nuclear power stations. These included:
Mr Wilkinson felt that CoRWM had misunderstood the findings of a survey put to stakeholders. A high number had prioritised 'Phased Deep Disposal' as a method compared with 'Permanent Disposal'. He felt the public had listed this preference in order to favour the ability to retrieve the waste packages compared with an irreversible disposal process. But this had not been clarified by the committee who mistakenly took the poll as an endorsement of the Deep Disposal plan currently being pushed by the Government. He felt a key issue to the waste management is the ability to remove any waste if you do bury it.
One member of the Watchet audience was appalled to hear that Defra were planning to invite local communities to 'bid' for the Deep Repository in advance of geological surveys being taken. He understood there to be a fault underneath Hinkley Point.
Our concern here is that common sense prescribes that the ill-feeling likely to be associated with council leaders pressing for the Repository would be immense. For it later to be ruled out on geological grounds seems perverse. See today's Guardian letter by Prof David Smith, below.
Low Level Radiation
As the key issue is that of health risk now or at some future stage, we are concerned that CoRWM did not fully examine the risks from low level radiation, which are thought by many to be greater than the ICRP and other authorities. The CoRWM Sub-Meeting examining health risks due to occur on 7 th July 2005 in London was hastily cancelled due to the underground bombings on the same day. The meeting was never reconvened but later CoRWM adopted the ICRP risk model as the basis for its report.
This is very unsatisfactory in our view as we have long campaigned on the issue of health effects of low levels of radiation and commissioned various local studies, showing elevated breast cancer levels in one particular town, Burnham-on-Sea, just downwind of Hinkley Point (3).
Moreover, the fact that Defra seems to be ignoring the recommendations of CoRWM that other research, including that for Low Level Radiation, has been sidelined is highly significant. The particular research recommended in its 'package' report included more extensive studies into the effects over time of corrosion on packaging and concrete backfilling in a repository. These seem to be essential precursors to developing a safe repository but have been omitted by the government who seem to be 'cherry-picking' from the CoRWM recommendations.
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Our group supports the calls from Wales Anti-Nuclear Alliance (WANA) to submit the CoRWM recommendations to this environmental assessment with consideration to the alternatives and greater examination of the local consequences of a Deep Repository. For example the Defra CD seems to underplay the impact of a repository by focussing on the surface facilities. But millions of tonnes of rubble would be produced by the mining accompanied at unknown cost to the carbon emissions from such a project, let alone the effect of transporting the rubble, then the nuclear waste through local communities.
CoRWM 2 and NuLeAF
We are concerned at the notion of incentives being applied to local communities who may volunteer to host a Deep Repository anticipating financial gains. There has been much controversy locally on this subject as West Somerset Council (WSC) have begun internal discussions where the Chief Executive proposed applying for cash incentives for a Low Level Waste facility at Hinkley Point (1). Neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) seem to be at a more advanced stage of discussion and have two leading councillors sitting on the NuLeAF steering committee, although no public statement of intention has been issued.
One cabinet councillor at WSC was said to be appalled at these 'bribes' for the acknowledged risk from the radiation. ( West Somerset Free Press 9 th September 2007 )
We are concerned that a disadvantaged, rural council with a record for poor transparency such as West Somerset or Sedgemoor might be prepared to position itself to take up government cash offers in return for risks on an unthinkable timetable.
Taking money for the relatively small-scale project of a Low Level Waste facility could lead on to the temptation of greater rewards for the Deep Repository. Interestingly the NDA has said that no mechanisms exist for these cash incentives (2) making us wonder why the idea has been 'given legs' and raising the suspicion that the real agenda was to wet the local appetite for cash for a Deep Repository.
We are concerned that Local Government does not automatically represent the thinking of the population on single issue questions.
Many attempts at foisting a Deep Repository on various communities in the UK have come to nothing over the years due to public resistance and individuals highlighting the uncertainties involved in carrying out such a high-risk project.
Although CoRWM last year recommended Deep Disposal as the best option, the whole committee was not convinced, moreover they laid out several very important caveats.
The committee recommended waste storage for up to a century while an intensified research programme is conducted into areas of substantial uncertainty such as: the longevity of waste packaging, the corrosive and polluting effects of underground water movements and the health effects of low-level radiation. A review of interim storage facilities into security against terrorism was also prescribed.
This intensified research programme has not been launched. Instead the Government seems to have jumped ahead to prepare for a Deep Repository and engage so-called "willing" communities to host such a project. In Somerset cash-strapped councils are currently being lured with offers of cash incentives to accept the acknowledged risk of a separate Low Level Waste site at Hinkley Point.
But the public can have no confidence in Government plans to build any kind of repository if crucial recommendations by its own advisory committee are flouted. Cash lures to small, rural, cash-strapped councils must be ruled out as unethical as any benefits will not be felt by future generations who may be far more affected, whilst the councils will be under great pressure to take the cash.
The recommended programme of thorough, intensive, transparent research together with a Strategic Environmental Assessment must be carried out as an imperative before any further moves towards Deep Disposal are taken.
Robust storage close to where the waste exists is the least worst option. It offers future generations the choice of how to manage our long-lived and dangerous waste without forcing a closed and ultimately polluting option on them. That said, no more waste should be produced, so existing reactors should be closed in an orderly way and nuclear new build abandoned.
Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator, 2nd November 2007
(1) Hinkley Point "Common Good Fund" Report No sc 83/07 by Tim Howes, Chief Executive WSC, 5th September 2007
(2) Dave Warner, NDA representative, Hinkley Site Stakeholder Group, Friday 19th October
(3) 'Cancer Mortality and Proximity to Hinkley point Nuclear Power Station in Somerset 1995-1998 Part 1 Breast Cancer' Authors: Chris Busby PhD, Paul Dorfman BSc, Helen Rowe BA
'Cancer Mortality and Proximity to Oldbury Nuclear Power Station in Gloucestershire 1995-1999' Authors: Chris Busby PhD, Paul Dorfman BSc, Helen Rowe BA, Bruce Kocjan BSc