Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

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[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 company—United 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" (Annex 2[2]).

  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 invited:

1.   Timetable—the 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" (Annex 3[3]) 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 Policy—what 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 long term.

  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; and

    —  provides opportunities for stakeholders to make inputs.

  The whole process must be transparent and inclusive. The pace of progress—the speed at which the process moves from one phase to the next—should 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 as crucial.

  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[4]). 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[5]); "The Front of the Front End: Mapping Public Concerns about Radioactive Waste Management Issues" by Lancaster University (Annex 5[6]) and "An independent stakeholder review of Nirex" by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) (Annex 6[7]). 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 regulated;

    —  public confidence in the organisations involved;

    —  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:

    —  institutional reform;

    —  legal obligations of the different institutions;

    —  transfer of liabilities between different institutions; and

    —  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:

    —  Open—the 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;

    —  Transparent—the 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;

    —  Accountable—those responsible 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 into account.

  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 (Annex 1[8]8). 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:

    —  preview—debating 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 waste policy

  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 concept.


  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.


November 2001


  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, September 1996.

  2.  Environmental Protection Agency [USA], EPA's Communication Plan for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, 1995.

  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, 1999.

  2.  Nirex, Managing Radioactive Waste, 2000.

  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.

1   Not printed. Back

2   Not printed. Back

3   Not printed. Back

4   Not printed. Back

5   Not printed. Back

6   Not printed. Back

7   Not printed. Back

8   8 Not printed. Back

9   9 Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 January 2002