Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
MONDAY 3 DECEMBER 2001
140. Can I follow on from that just to help
me understand technically, you said that you would be happy to
carry on having a discussion about the solution which you have
just described, you have given us a word picture of neither deep
storage nor surface storage. Can you help me to understand what
is the possible area for some solution with which you could concur?
(Mr Secrett) We are still completing our review and
we are hampered by the lack of certain technical information that
we are after but, as a supposition at this stage only, one can
generally conceive of it being safer and easier to defend in some
form of just below-ground bunker such waste but not to have it
in deep storage. If the technical construction of such a bunker
can avoid the seepage or other types of dispersal of radioactive
material problems that deep storage leads to, then as a supposition
that may be a new way forward to best deal with the range of problems
that we have, whether they are on the attack side or on the safe
141. Just to be clear, in the scenario you have
painted there are you talking about waste in a reprocessed or
a raw form? What is the material that you would envisage in this
Mr Secrett: It would have to be a shallow bunker.
142. A bunker at some stage. Carry on.
(Dr Western) The nuclear industry have been reprocessing
for 40 years so we already have processed waste that has to be
dealt with and a lot of that is unconditioned intermediate level
waste that needs to be treated. In addition there is spent fuel,
particularly the AGR fuel which comes from British Energy stations
and Sizewell B PWR which will go into such a bunker. There is
a question mark about the Magnox fuel which comes from BNFL stations,
whether that should be reprocessed or not reprocessed. That will
need a dry store and I think that could be looked at. One of the
important pieces of information which we need from the nuclear
industry is whether waste that is already Magnox fuel which has
not been reprocessed but which is wet could be put in such a bunker
or would need to be reprocessed.
143. So PWR and AGR basically as it comes out
of the reactornothing further done to it?
(Dr Western) That is fine.
144. Let's talk about plutonium and uranium
stockpiles because you do not like those at all. There are some
who say that that does not represent any kind of worth in terms
of future potential energy source. Others (as BNFL would) argue
it is worth doing. How do you respond to the argument that plutonium
and uranium stockpiles (certainly in the eyes of BNFL) represent
an energy source and should be reprocessed to gain that energy
and others say it should not. Could you clarify your position
on that if you would be so kind.
(Mr Johnston) One of the new Government'sor
relatively new nowinitiatives was to set out in a report
from Government the value of all the assets throughout the country
that the Government owns. The list was updated early this year.
145. Is that the new Doomsday Book?
(Mr Johnston) You are probably right. In relation
to the British Nuclear Fuels materials it holds, and of course
BNFL being a DTI-owned "asset" is in there, the value
then assigned to plutonium was zero. So whilst BNLF may have a
variety of public linesand perhaps there is beginning to
be a shift nowthat is the reality in terms of the Government's
assessment of the value of plutonium today. In reality, accepting
of course that something has to be done with this plutonium, it
is dangerous from a security point of view as well as an environmental
point of view, the figure is probably a negative figure because
the United Kingdom will have to spend money on conditioning it
in order to put it into a less dangerous form at some point in
146. You do not put any store by the argument
that plutonium could be incorporated into nuclear power fuel?
In your view it is worthless and therefore not worth doing anything
with other than making it safe in some way?
(Dr Western) It is important to bear in mind that
as long as you have separated plutonium, which is of course the
raw material for nuclear weapons, you have to spend an inordinate
amount of money to make sure nobody nicks it and makes it into
a bomb. Plutonium was originally valued at £1 million a tonne
in the 1955 Nuclear Power White Paper and more recent evidence
shows that it costs £1 million per tonne per year, if I remember
correctly, just to store it to make sure it is not diverted. Reprocessing
of uranium does not present such a proliferation threat. That
just needs to be conditioned. Plutonium needs to be treated with
a high level waste radiation barrier which comes from spent fuel
to make sure it is as difficult as can be to make it into a weapon.
147. I have been to Sellafield once and I do
not remember if I saw the plutonium. Is it in suitcase sized lumps
that you can walk in, pick up and walk away or is it in great
big something or others that would be difficult to pick up on
a casual basis?
(Dr Western) I have been to the plutonium stores.
148. And survived?
(Dr Western) As I understand it, this would need to
be confirmed by BNFL, the plutonium is in screw-top aluminium
cans which are put behind a radiation barrier and then there are
Diana Organ: You could walk out with a can of
149. A five kilogram can.
(Dr Western) A small can.
150. Would I be right in saying if you were
going to move any quantity of plutonium you would have to have
some specialist equipment to move it otherwise you end up being
(Dr Western) No, that is not the case. Walter Marshall,
I think said you could sit on plutonium and just your jeans would
protect you because plutonium does not release gamma rays which
go through the body but alpha particles which are shielded.
151. So it is not plutonium for its own sake,
it is what you can do with it? You would recommend that the Committee
wear a pair of Levis would you on its visit to Sellafield?
(Mr Secrett) And stay behind the barrier, this side
152. Members of the Committee will not get a
prize for walking off with canisters of it!
(Mr Secrett) Mr Jack, was there more about the economics
of your question?
153. I am going to come on to that, which with
your shrewd mind you anticipate. The argument has been put that
somehow the Mox plant is sustainable by virtue of being able to
process waste, in the case of plutonium, and then make new nuclear
fuel which can be burnt again. Others have challenged that. That
is what I was probing around. Do you want to comment on that?
(Mr Secrett) What we believe generally is the Government
is trying to construct an economic case for the Mox plant and
we do not see any robustness in the market that they describe.
We cannot see how the shipment to other countries is going to
be politically or popularly permissable, even if one could describe
a theoretically safe way of transporting it. We can envisage scenarios
where one could create in Britain an internal market through new
build which might lead to a new economic assessment of this material
as a resource rather than as waste, but we think that is an entirely
artificial construct that will lead to more and more taxpayers'
money being used to prop it up, and we do not believe that is
the basis on which privatisation, for example, can best proceed.
(Dr Western) Can I just refer you to the Barker and
Sadnicki work that was produced for the MacArthur Foundation.
154. Is that Mike?
(Dr Western) Mike Sadnicki and Fred Barker. They are
both members of RWMAC. They have done work for Friends of the
Earth in the past but this was for the MacArthur Foundation. This
looked specifically at the plutonium stocks in the UK and the
economics of introducing a radiation barrier and also the problems
associated with the fact that the liquid pile of waste stocks
that we have need to be treated as soon as possible and maybe
to wait while we deliver plutonium treatment would just postpone
the programme for too long. What they found was developing something
called low-spec MOX, which is actually called in technical circles
Kentucky Fried MOX, which is just
155. Is that a technical term?
(Mr Secrett) They have a sense of humour.
Diana Organ: Good for them.
156. This is one of those odd technical terms,
(Mr Tindale) Sorry to interrupt but I did send a message
to the Clerk earlier that I had to leave at half past five, so
if you will excuse me.
157. We understand. You were telling us about
Kentucky Fried MOX.
(Dr Western) Which does not have the proliferation
threat of ordinary MOX, so it would be supported by Friends of
the Earth in that sense. You would mix it with spent fuel rods
rather than liquid high level waste to introduce the radiation
barrier. That may not be the best approach, the best approach
may be to make ceramics from the plutonium rather than MOX rods
at all. Again, we welcome the consultation, it is an opportunity
to examine fully these options and hopefully we will get the information
out of BNFL.
158. When you talk about consultation are you
talking about the Government's consultation?
(Dr Western) The Government's consultation which asks
specifically about plutonium.
159. Because Mr Sadnicki had suggested in evidence
to usI want to make certain I understand itthat
there was a way of using MOX to produce a sort of safer form of
plutonium waste. Is that what you have just described to me?
(Dr Western) Yes.