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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-47)



Mr Lepper

  40. Nirex had an independent stakeholder review carried out earlier this year, I think, by Environmental Resources Management, published in July this year?
  (Mr Murray) Yes.

  41. And one of their conclusions was that you should initiate research on surface storage of radioactive waste. That was July this year. Post September 11, is that still an option that anyone would accept?
  (Mr Murray) You are asking me two questions there; if I address them in two parts. First of all, the question about Nirex looking at surface storage. One of the issues with Nirex in the past has been that we have been very focused on deep geological disposal, and, although we have looked at other options, it is very important now that the organisation taking this forward, Nirex's successor, probably, would be looking at all options and much more aware of what was required in other options. A second point is that, no matter what, there will have to be surface storage, in any strategy, because it takes time to work through this kind of process, we are talking decades here, with the best will in the world, so there does have to be surface storage; and Nirex's advice to waste producers actually covers the surface storage period, in terms of the packages that they produce. The question that you ask about whether surface storage is a viable option post September 11 is something that many people have talked to us about since September 11, and they have generally been along of the lines, `well, it's obvious that something has to be done, the only thing to do is to take the waste deep.' My answer to that is, September 11 was a terrible thing, and it had an effect on all of us, I think, but we need to feed September 11 into this kind of consultation process and we need to have a reasoned debate around these issues and come to a slightly slower discussion of it, taking a little bit of time to think through just truly what are the implications are.

  42. But what your independent stakeholder review was recommending, back there in July, becomes a more difficult option to debate now?
  (Mr Murray) Nevertheless, the body taking this forward should have more involvement than that, it should take a wider view of all the options.

  43. Can I ask just a couple of other things, Chairman, if I may. I believe there is a backlog of both intermediate-level waste and high-level waste which still requires conditioning; that is so?
  (Mr Murray) That is so. First of all, we do not have any remit to deal with high-level waste.

  44. Do you think you should have, for high-level waste?
  (Mr Murray) Yes. I think that it would be better if our successor had a wider remit, that looked across all the wastes, and actually all the options, so that it was a much more rounded way of going forward.

  45. Alright; but given the limitations on what your responsibilities are, at the moment, is there a case for the conditioning of that intermediate-level waste, which is part of the backlog, being accelerated now, rather than waiting for further policy developments on it?
  (Mr Murray) I think there is a lot of pressure, particularly from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, and, indeed, I think, the Environment Agency as well, to get ahead with packaging waste. We do not see that as something that causes a problem, in terms of what we do; in the sense that if our advice is fed in early enough to the process, it should not really cause too many problems, in terms of getting ahead. I do not recognise that there is no pressure to get ahead, I believe there is pressure to get ahead, and that the Inspectorates are the people who are applying that pressure.
  (Dr Hooper) I think, if I might add, Chris, just in the last 12 months, both the regulators and, if anybody from Scotland will forgive me, the Environment Agency for England and Wales, certainly, and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, have put in their guidance to inspectors that the packaging advice process that Nirex operates is a valid process for considering the conditioning of intermediate-level waste. So I think there is a process that is accepted by the regulator for making progress on this conditioning.

  46. Finally, are you satisfied with the way in which existing waste is being stored; are there any risks involved?
  (Mr Murray) There are risks with raw wastes, as they are stored, but that is a question really for the industry, not for ourselves. We, for our part, are concerned with the very long term, and what we would like to see is the process continuing at a steady pace, getting the waste into a form that can be said to be okay for the long term; and that is our role, to feed in the long-term perspective, what needs to be done in order to get a package to get a waste product, if you like, that will be suitable for very long-term management.

  47. And you are happy with the way the industry is managing that situation at the moment?
  (Mr Murray) Yes, given what Alan said, that we are being built into the process by both regulators. You could argue that we should be a statutory consultee, but these are all refinements of the process.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. We will no doubt be back in touch with you, but we have got a lot to gallop through today. Thank you very much for coming.

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