Memorandum submitted by Nirex
The UK has significant holdings of long-lived
radioactive waste that will remain potentially hazardous for many
thousands of years. If we are to avoid passing this waste legacy
on to future generations, we need a long-term management solution.
In consultation with others, Nirex has reviewed
its approach in the light of lessons learned from the past, other
countries' experience and recent academic research. The review
shows that if a widely acceptable solution is to be found, there
will need to be a widespread consensus on three key themes. These
are the process through which any solution is decided; the structure
of the organisations charged with overseeing and implementing
the solution; and the behaviour of those organisations and the
individuals within them. These themes are linked by the concept
of transparency that lies at the heart of the new Nirex approach.
To this end Nirex has adopted a Transparency Policy (Annex 1)
and created an Independent Transparency Review Panel.
The current Nirex Mission as agreed at the September
2001 Board is:
"To provide the UK with safe, environmentally
sound and publicly acceptable options for the long-term management
of radioactive materials."
By agreement with its shareholders, Nirex is
responsible for finding long-term management solutions for all
intermediate-level waste (ILW) and the small amount of low-level
waste (LLW) that is unsuitable for disposal at the Drigg near-surface
disposal facility operated by BNFL in Cumbria.
Nirex was formed in 1982 as NIREX, the Nuclear
Industry Radioactive Waste Executive. It is owned and financed
by the nuclear industry. In 1985, the organisation became a limited
companyUnited Kingdom Nirex Limited (Nirex). Currently
BNFL/Magnox is the major shareholder with a 74.5 per cent share
of the company, contributing 69.3 per cent of the funding. Other
shareholders are UKAEA (14.7 per cent) and British Energy (10.8
per cent) who contribute 14.8 per cent and 7.7 per cent of the
funding respectively. The MoD is not a shareholder, but contributes
8.2 per cent of the funding. Additionally, the government holds
a special share giving it power of veto over some decisions. The
shareholdings and funding arrangements relate to the amount of
waste owned by each customer.
The Nirex board is made up of two directors
from BNFL/Magnox, one director from UKAEA, two directors from
British Energy and two appointed by government (DTI), plus a Chairman-director
and the Nirex Managing Director. Nirex is based at Harwell, Oxfordshire
and currently employs 67 people.
More general information about Nirex and its
role in the long-term management of radioactive wastes can be
found in its current brochure, "Managing Radioactive Waste"
Nirex is currently working on its detailed response
to the DEFRA consultation and welcomes the opportunity to help
inform the Committee in its inquiry.
There are three main points on which views are
1. Timetablethe timetable of, and
progress made thus far in, the consultation exercise
Nirex believes that radioactive waste management
is ultimately an ethical issue. Radioactive waste exists and society
needs to face up to the responsibility of its long-term management.
Essentially, therefore, it is as much a social and political problem
as it is a scientific and technical one.
For these reasons Nirex strongly supports the
view that future policy development must be based on deliberative
consideration and consensus building. This approach will inevitably
take time but is necessary in order to make meaningful progress,
reaching the right solution in the right way.
However, this is not an argument for delay.
Given the current heightened concern over the security of radioactive
materials, Nirex believes that we need a clear commitment to progress
by all interested parties. Long-term radioactive waste management
does involve timescales outside the usual policy development process,
but that should not prevent real and measurable progress towards
a publicly acceptable long-term outcome.
As for the timetable suggested in the DEFRA
paper we agree that there is an argument for undertaking institutional
reform earlier rather than later. This will then allow time for
the institutions taking forward the whole project to be able to
develop legitimate authority as soon as possible, so that they
can implement whatever is the Government's final chosen policy.
It would also clarify the roles of the institutional actors early
in the process and avoid any confusion in the public domain.
One of Nirex's roles is to provide packaging
advice to the nuclear industry. That advice is being given today
and waste is being packaged now to meet Nirex's specifications
and make it passively safe. There is a need for waste management
policy to be clarified around the short, medium and long-term
management of waste.
We would like to draw the Committee's attention
to the following in support of our position:
(1) Nirex commissioned a piece of work by
J Hunt and B Wynne of Lancaster University, "Forums for Dialogue:
Developing Legitimate Authority through Communication and Consultation"
which emphasises the need for pro-active stakeholder dialogue
that includes the general public.
(2) The UK CEED Consensus Conference held
in 1999 was an excellent example of how members of the public
can engage with this complex issue and produce a report that gives
clear guidance to policy makers and confidence in greater public
engagement. Nirex would support DEFRA in its plans to commission
work of this sort using different forums for different stakeholders
during the current consultation process and throughout the rest
of the programme.
(3) The MoD ISOLUS project on the decommissioning
of nuclear submarines is an example of how innovative consultation
techniques are being used by Government to engage a wide range
of stakeholders including the general public. We strongly agree
with DEFRA's plans to consult on issues before considering technical
options, ie having a "Front End" to the whole process.
In this way, any proposed technical options can be seen to address
the concerns raised by stakeholders at the start.
2. Difficulties with Policywhat difficulties
arise from current radioactive waste policy, including consideration
of what should be defined as waste
A lesson from Nirex's experience in providing
packaging advice to waste producers is the importance of proper
consideration of the long-term implications of any actions taken
today. Nirex has recently improved its internal procedures to
make its processes more open to outside scrutiny. These arrangements
are assisting the regulators in their decision making processes
by providing them with greater visibility of Nirex's view of the
We believe that there is a difficulty about
packaging advice for the long term only applying to a selection
of the wastes. There should be a comprehensive consideration of
the long-term impacts across all materials that could have long-term
implications (including spent fuel and HLW). This issue was also
highlighted by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science
and Technology in 1999.
Additionally it is likely to be difficult to
gain support for the addition of extra categories of wastes into
a waste management concept part way through the process, especially
if local communities have already been involved.
Nirex has been reviewing the processes and actions
that led up to the RCF decision to try to learn what contributed
to the failure and how things might be done differently in the
future. Key parts of this review are examples provided by other
countries' experience and recent academic research. The results
of the review are far-reaching but they can be summarised into
three key themes: process, structure and behaviour, which are
linked by the concept of transparency. If any future project is
to succeed, transparency must be, and be seen to be, at the heart
of the project. Nirex is currently preparing detailed position
papers for the DEFRA consultation on these issues. The following
paragraphs highlight the key aspects.
Some of the issues under this theme are generic
and relate to the process by which legitimate authority can be
gained for government policy development and achieving public
acceptance of specific policy solutions. We believe it will be
important to map public and stakeholder concerns that will have
to be dealt with in any consideration of radioactive waste policy.
Nirex's review has shown that there must be
a clear, phased decision making process that:
has been developed in consultation
with all stakeholders;
has clear decision points;
explains how decisions will be taken;
provides opportunities for stakeholders
to make inputs.
The whole process must be transparent and inclusive.
The pace of progressthe speed at which the process moves
from one phase to the nextshould be determined by the time
needed to obtain stakeholder inputs. Only when there is sufficient
consensus should the process move on to the next phase. The process
should include "checks and balances", particularly so
that the behaviours of all the players can be analysed and reviewed.
Early regulatory involvement (at the concept stage) is also seen
A more detailed overview of the above is given
in "Forums for Dialogue: Developing Legitimate Authority
through Communication and Consultation" by J Hunt and B Wynne
of Lancaster University (Annex 3).
Examples of research into public attitudes towards radioactive
waste are given in the following reports, which are also attached:
"Establishing the value of wider public consultation"
by the Future Foundation (Annex 4);
"The Front of the Front End: Mapping Public Concerns about
Radioactive Waste Management Issues" by Lancaster University
and "An independent stakeholder review of Nirex" by
Environmental Resources Management (ERM) (Annex 6).
These papers have already been submitted to the Energy Review.
Nirex has also commissioned research on the
ethical context of the relationship between society as a whole
and any host community for a waste management facility. This work,
being conducted by Dr Kate Rawles, is still in draft form, but
we hope to submit this paper, when complete, to the DEFRA consultation.
We also believe early in the process, there
will need to be an independent review of all technical options
for the management of long-lived radioactive waste. This review
should be open to input from all stakeholders and be based on
dialogue and consultation. Nirex believes it will be important
for there to be on-going research on al potential options throughout
the process so that when the process reaches the stage of implementing
an option it can be demonstrated that the decision on the technical
option being implemented is still robust.
Everyday experience demonstrates that the structure
of an industry has a large impact on:
the way the industry needs to be
public confidence in the organisations
the visibility of the issues that
need to be addressed; and
the ability of those in authority
to make decisions.
The structure of the industry, the regulatory
framework and any institutional cross checks must be created with
the explicit intention of creating visibility of the whole policy
making and implementation process. This then paves the way for
stakeholders to engage constructively in the process. Nirex will
be submitting more detailed material to the DEFRA consultation
itself on the issues that need to be addressed which will include:
legal obligations of the different
transfer of liabilities between different
visibility of issues to the regulators
and decision makers.
In addition to a properly instituted process
and structure, delivery of a long-term implementable solution
for radioactive waste management would still be dependent on the
behaviour of those involved in the process. Research and experience
[1, 2, 3, 4] has shown that the behaviour must be:
Openthe debate must take place
in the public domain and there should be free access to all the
relevant information. Those involved should be open to influence
from different people with different opinions and perspectives;
Transparentthe reasoning behind
actions, deliberations and decisions should be made available.
It must be clear from the outset how stakeholders and the wider
public can be involved and how their opinions will be taken into
account and used;
for the process should be accountable for their actions to all
parties. This includes publicising the reasoning behind decisions
and giving people feedback on how their views have been taken
Information should be made readily available
and stakeholders should have the opportunity to influence the
programme of work that is undertaken.
One such example is the Nirex commitment to
Openness and Transparency as stated in our Transparency Policy
The key point is that there must be "access to and influence
on the programme". Nirex has also created an Independent
Transparency Review Panel, comprising Jenny Watson (Chair), James
Amos and Professor Patrick Birkinshaw, which acts as an appeal
mechanism and an independent cross-check with a remit to carry
out annual reviews and suggest further improvements.
Nirex has been working with consultants and
stakeholders to develop an understanding of what an institutional
culture based on transparency would mean in practice. This includes
the concepts of:
previewdebating the scope
of scientific and technical work programmes with stakeholders
before the work is undertaken; and
setting up forums for stakeholders
to express their concerns and demonstrate how these discussions
impact on the overall company direction.
3. The impact that future decommissioning
of nuclear power plants, any construction of new plants, and the
commencement of MOX production at Sellafield will have on radioactive
Nirex recognises the importance of these issues
and believes that the long-term management implications need to
be factored into the decision making process. We have some experience
of working on these topics. This is available to inform the debate.
Nirex is preparing detailed papers, as part of its planned submission
to the DEFRA consultation process on these issues. In broad outline
our initial assessments show that the resulting wastes are not
fundamentally different from the wastes that Nirex already considers
and as such could be accommodated in the Nirex phased disposal
Reactor stage 3 decommissioning waste is not
currently included in the Nirex phased disposal concept. However,
Nirex has conducted scoping studies that have shown there is the
potential for inclusion of these wastes in the Nirex phased disposal
concept, both in terms of the volume of wastes that will arise
and the impact on the safety cases for the concept.
As regards the implications for the long-term
waste management of any waste arising from new nuclear stations,
we have put in hand work to determine whether there are any potential
issues arising from new waste streams. Our initial assessment
suggests that, provided new reactors are built with materials
of similar specification and fuels similar to those already in
use, there are no major new issues for long-term waste management.
We would emphasise that at this stage we do not have enough information
about the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor to come to a firm view on
this particular reactor option.
We believe that it is important to consider
long-term waste management issues by involving the long-term waste
management organisation at the concept stage of reactor development.
This will enable the long-term issues to be factored into the
decision making process and so help decrease both the volumes
and radiological impact of any wastes produced. In terms of waste
volumes, new reactor build at a level capable of providing a nuclear
energy contribution similar to that of today's nuclear programme
is unlikely to add significantly to the existing stocks and predicted
arisings of ILW in the UK. The actual impact will depend on the
type and number of new reactors created.
High level wastes and spent fuel (including
spent MOX fuel) are outside Nirex's current remit. Some operational
wastes from the MOX fuel production plant have already been the
subject of advice by Nirex on their long-term management and are
considered to be compatible with the Nirex phased disposal concept.
We have not yet considered the waste streams arising from the
decommissioning of the MOX plant.
1. A Armour, "Modernizing Democratic
Decision-Making processes from Conflict to Co-operation in Facility
Siting". The Environment in the 21st century: Environment,
Long-term Governance and Democracy, Abbey de Fontevraud, France,
2. Environmental Protection Agency [USA],
EPA's Communication Plan for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,
3. P O'Sullivan. B McKirdy, M Askarieh,
A Bond and S Russell, "Environmental Impact Assessment and
Geological Repositories for Radioactive Waste", VALDOR:
Values in Decisions on Risk: A Symposium in the RISCOM Programme
Addressing Transparency in Risk Assessment and Decision Making,
Stockholm, Sweden, June 1999.
4. B Rabe, "Beyond the NIMBY Syndrome
in Hazardous Waste Facility Siting: The Albertan Breakthrough
and the Prospects for Co-operation in Canada and the United States",
Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration,
4(2), 184-206, 1991.
1. Nirex, Nirex Transparency Policy,
2. Nirex, Managing Radioactive Waste,
3. J Hunt and B Wynne, Forums for Dialogue:
Developing Legitimate Authority through Communication and Consultation,
A report for Nirex, May 2000.
4. The Future Foundation, Establishing
the value of wider public consultation, A report to Nirex
by The Future Foundation, November 2000.
5. Centre for the Study of Environmental
Change (CSEC), The Front of the Front End: Mapping Public Concerns
about Radioactive Waste Management Issues, Report to UK Nirex
by CSEC, Lancaster University, March 2001.
6. Environmental Resources Management (ERM),
An Independent Stakeholder Review of Nirex, July 2001.
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