Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)
MONDAY 17 DECEMBER
240. I would imagine that for any such independent
body to be seen to be legitimate, there needs to be a range of
different views on it, including representatives from environmental
organisations. Certainly this Committee has received some indications
that some of the environmental groups might be willing to have
their representatives on such a body were the Government to give
a commitment to end nuclear powered generation. Have you given
any thought as to how that scenario could be handled to keep the
legitimacy of the process?
(Professor Curtis) Was that a conditional?
241. The Committee have already received indications
that it may be that certain environmental groups would not participate
in the independent body unless there was a commitment by Government
to end nuclear-powered generation. If that happened, there would
obviously be a problem of ensuring that the independent body had
sufficient balance to still have legitimacy. Have you given any
consideration to that?
(Professor Curtis) Not in detail but we do have comments.
(Mr Barker) One of the things to perhaps make clear
about RWMAC's advice about the overseeing panel is that we did
state we thought that the template should be filled on an ad
hominem basis and not on a representative basis, so that
across the board we would not have members of the overseeing panel
representing specific organisations. However, the point you make
is obviously an important one. It is clearly necessary to have
people on the panel who can articulate in the sense of an environmentalist
perspective, but you do not have to come from one of the main
national environmental organisations to be able to articulate
that perspective and there are a ranges of critical experts, for
example, who do work for the major environmental NGOs who might
be suitable candidates for such a panel.
242. Finally, the Government announced at the
end of last month the setting up of the Liabilities Management
Authority. What relationship do you see that organisation having
with the independent body?
(Professor Curtis) I have to confess that we have
only had very limited information on the make up of that. It clearly
will introduce certain potential difficulties just with there
being new boundaries between organisations which will have to
be managed. But we really have seen no more than the press announcements
and not the detail. For example, it is a complicated relationship
between the LMA and the contractors in the relationship who will
be the licensees, and to see what will be the regulatory interface.
I think all of those things are quite complicated and we have
not, as yet, discussed this in detail. I think I am right in saying
that on Wednesday morning we are having a presentation from DTI
on this and perhaps we might be a little better placed to offer
that. It is clearly complicated. Do you mean where would RWMAC
sit or the other body?
243. The independent body.
(Professor Curtis) I would think the independent body
would still have an element of oversight process of the different
bodies. Wherever there are boundaries there are potential tensions
and I think it would still need to do that. That is a personal
(Dr Davies) Just thinking in terms of the times, there
is an important point here as well in terms of looking at the
timetable that is being proposed. Setting up the LMA is going
to take a certain amount of time and at RWMAC we see a need for
pressing forward with some of the policy decisions earlier than
that would be possible. That is an important point.
(Professor Curtis) We do not know, the dates you are
looking at are 2003-2004 before the LMA is in place, so it is
quite a way off.
244. Can I just clarify something that you said
in response to a question of Michael Jack's earlier because I
think in every session of this Committee there has been some reference
made to the earlier list of possible deep repository sites and
the question of whether or not that should be made public. Were
you saying because that list is now between 10 and 20 years old
that it may well be that for various technical reasons the list
itself is out-of-date and not a good basis for discussion, even
if it were to be released?
(Professor Curtis) Again, this is not something we
have discussed. Speaking personally, I think there have been changes
in European views of different disposal sites. For example, we
have the French and the Belgians and the Swiss looking very seriously
shallow or deep storage repositories in shale in bunkers, which
is very different from certainly the Sellafield Longlands Farm
model. I do not know what that list was, but I think it is true
to say there have been some changes nationally. And then, secondly,
I do not know the reasoning process behind the choice that was
made before. It strikes me that whenever you publish moderate
sized lists you are running into difficulties of potential blight
and all kinds of genuine concerns, genuine worries, so I am not
saying that I am against publishing a list, but I think it would
be better to look at that again rather than just go back and reveal
something which is historical. I have no reasons for knowing that
it is not sound but that is my concern.
245. Time and thinking have possibly moved on?
(Professor Curtis) Possibly. I suspect not a great
deal but I can see no real benefit in just releasing that list.
246. Thank you. One of the other issues that
has come up in terms of community involvementand our chair
referred to it earlieris this question of local communities
receiving some benefit, as I think happened in the operation in
Finland, in return for their agreement to host a site. Yet I think
both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth when they spoke to us
in our last session felt that form of sweetener or inducement
or compensation should not form part of any process of negotiation
because choices of sites should be made solely on the basis of
scientific, technical, geological or whatever evidence.
(Professor Curtis) I think it is a difficult one.
I will offer you a personal view and I will allow my colleagues
to offer their views. There is a wide spectrum. I personally see
this issue as a national problem and if a local community is solving
the national problem, then I see no reason why it should not be
receive compensation for solving a national problem. It sets all
kinds of precedents but I do not see that the idea of compensation
is necessarily any kind of bribery or anything like that, it is
part of a process. There are lots of different ways of doing it.
I guess, as we said, a sensible thing to do here would be to look
very carefully at the practice in other countries where we do
have different kinds and a number of different models. So summarising
my views, I do not see anything ethically wrong in this at all,
but then I would suggest looking carefully at practice elsewhere.
Fred, would you like to add any comments?
(Mr Barker) Just to say sometimes it is useful to
break down the different types of measures that have been used
internationally, measures which have involved funding to enable
the local community to engage in the process of reviewing and
assessing a siting proposal. That seems to me to be uncontroversial
and perfectly legitimate. There is the question of legitimate
compensation where there is stigma, or whatever, to improve infrastructure
to enable a siting process to proceed, and then there is the issue
of incentives to encourage an area to volunteer. It may be in
that last area where most controversy lies and in the first two
categories perhaps where there is less difficulty. Again, it is
a matter of analysis and making sure that the best practice internationally
is drawn upon in deciding what is appropriate in the UK context.
247. This whole issue of the industry and indeed
government engaging with the public is a very tricky one obviously.
Several of our witnesses have drawn a fairly sharp comparison
that they see between the attitude of Nirex and the attitude of
BNFL and the way in which they engage with the public, and I think
in a written presentation to us the Nuclear Free Zone Local Authorities
said the nuclear industry and government were perceived to have
a "track record of dishonesty". Is that something that
you would agree with, without agreeing necessarily with that sentiment,
that that view colours every discussion on this issue?
(Professor Curtis) These perceptions of honesty and
dishonesty and trustI think trust is an important one
248. A better word than dishonesty perhaps.
(Professor Curtis) There have been some sharply changed
perceptions. I can remember when I very first became involved
with the Nirex repository which was not that long before the programme
was termimated and at that time Nirex were regarded as the villains
of the piece and BNFL, certainly locally, were regarded as the
people who were the honest brokers, so there has been a sharp
change. I can only offer one observation on that which is that
at the present time Nirex has a number of duties but in the area
of the repository development it actually is not proposing anything
at the moment, it does not have anything controversial in mind,
whereas BNFL is continuing to reprocess and all kinds of things.
So it may be that the perception links to what is actually going
on. But that is a purely personal observation.
249. After 11 September is any real advance
in openness and transparency and this engagement between the industry
and the government and the public possible, or is it likely that
these matters will become less transparent and open?
(Professor Curtis) There are many strands to that.
The easiest one to start with is the fact, which is not responding
directly to your question, that the scene has changed in the sense
that I wrote before 11 September pointing out the differences
between surface and sub-surface storage or disposal purely from
natural physical responses, so I think there is a new dimension,
a demonstration of a risk or a threat which there was not before,
but that is a technical point that was not the main thrust of
(Mr Barker) There are clearly going to be areas of
the industry's activity where there are going to be legitimate
restrictions on discussion because of security concerns. I do
not see that that would impact on the process of policy we are
going to engage in which is about identifying a long-term management
policy, whether it be deep disposal or surface storage. That can
still take place with the requisite amount of openness and public
(Professor Curtis) I did ask a question after 11 September
on behalf of RWMAC about potential security implications and was
informed that security measures were in place but they were subject
to the usual restrictions, so we are reassured that things are
250. As you probably know, we had the opportunity
of visiting Sellafield last week and I have to say personally
and I know many others feel this, it was extremely interesting
and done in an informative way. Perhaps just to return to what
we are doing now in advance of longer term policy development
and so on, we looked at the various storage methods for high level
waste and intermediate level waste of which there is a quite a
significant amount. Are you perfectly satisfied that the current
arrangements for that conditioning and the storage of all that
waste are entirely satisfactory?
(Professor Curtis) I think I will certainly ask Fred
again to answer. Fred at the moment is chairing a joint RWMAC-NuSAC
group looking at ILW in particular and I think he will be able
to offer us an up-to-date view.
(Mr Barker) I think it is definitely the case that
there are at various locations older facilities storing raw wastes
where there is clearly a need to move forward with retrieval operations
and conditioning programmes, and our awareness is that the Nuclear
Installations Inspectorate is in a sense, doing a good job in
terms of chivvying the industry along to make sure that the historic
waste in facilities which do not meet modern standards is tackled
as quickly as is practicable and those facilities have to be distinguished,
in a sense, from the bulk of radioactive waste.
251. What was surprising to me, and perhaps
to others, is that with some of the 50-year-old waste and the
way in which we stored things 50 years ago, as each successive
extension of the store went on, so did the increase in the amount
of physical containment and such, and it almost seems as if we
are learning as we go along. Therefore, how confident can you
be that what we are storing at the present time under the present
conditions is likely to be satisfactory for the immediate future?
(Professor Curtis) I can offer a comment on that which
is not an answer in one sense, but if you look at the history
of the nuclear industry and remember the conditions under which
it was born and first developed here, I would have said that almost
no thought was given to the long-term.
252. We soon came to that conclusion ourselves.
(Professor Curtis) If you went to Dounreay you would
find that even more so.
253. Perhaps we will not not go there!
(Professor Curtis) Where, for example, facilities
were built with a 40-year life span, of quite good quality but
no thought was given in the design to the eventual repackaging
requirements. I am sure that the underpinning science on a lot
of this has not changed very much, the engineering may have changed
to some extent, but I think the evolution that you mention is
not really an evolution of the science and technology of waste
handling and management, it is an evolution of people's priorities
at the time for the different facets of the programme, such that
in the early days very little attention was paid to waste management
and it was really, I think, a relatively low priority concern.
First of all, with the weapons programmeI am only interpreting
thisand then with the development of the nuclear power,
the Magnox programme, it simply did not seem to be a very high
priority then. I think the view was that the problem could be
solved in good time, but I think in recent times that has not
254. So the increase in the security arrangements
and containment solutions and everything else are not to do with
a change in the risk but a change in the potential time that these
things are going to be stored?
(Professor Curtis) Again I am speaking personally,
I think it is the time-frame for the management of projects that
people are thinking of. When you are concerned to develop a reactor
programme or concerned to develop a weapons' establishment, you
are concerned on a shorter time-frame. As soon as you start to
think properly about the implications of what you doing with waste
then you are forced to look at a different time-frame. It is always
much more difficult to project manage something even just for
the financial risks which have got a very long time-frame.
255. Can we turn now to the regulatory bodies.
There has been discussion on perhaps having a single regulator
and there has been the whole of the debate around effective scrutiny
and how an effective regulatory system is undertaken. In your
opinion, is that in any way delaying the conditioning of the waste
and, if it is, how do you think it might be resolved?
(Professor Curtis) I am going to defer to Dr Davies,
but we have on a relatively local and specific level gained the
impression that there have been delays caused by the regulatory
interfaces. However, that is not sufficient in a way because you
have got to go back behind that to look at what are the principles
and policies that are driving those regulations and in some areas
they are starting from a rather different starting place, the
obvious one being the Health and Safety Executive looking at risk
based criteria and on the other hand the OSPAR principles
looking at driving discharges downwards with no consideration
of risk or cost or loss. So I think there are some fundamental
background things which are behind the regulations. They are in
the law, they are in the principles and the development of the
principles. That is a broad picture at a much broader level. I
think I would be much better to defer to Wynne as Wynne, I should
say, is Safety Director at Amersham International and therefore
is working with regulators.
(Dr Davies) To reinforce the answer that
Professor Curtis has given, I would certainly endorse that there
is a tension been the tolerability of risk philosophy which the
Nuclear Installations Inspectorate as part of the Health and Safety
Executive are adopting and some of the philosophies that are coming
through the Environment Agency's drivers, and also, of course,
there is the past policy of delaying conditioning so that you
do not foreclose any future management decisions you might make
or options you might take into account versus the Nuclear Inspectorate
drivers for early conditioning. They are saying we want the stuff
to be stored passively. So there are definitely tensions in that
area and when we are looking for a way forward we have got to
make decisions on these policy areas.
256. So the way forward is not necessarily a
single regulator but a means of allowing the current two regulators
to agree on a more combined basis how we are going to achieve
(Dr Davies) There are memoranda of understanding between
the Nuclear Inspectorate and the Environment Agency currently
and certainly we are hearing reported that the working relationships
are improving in those areas, but it is the policies that we need
to clarifyjust exactly what it is we want to do? Referring
back to one of the earlier answers, the timing is critical and
some of these decisions really do need to be taken now.
257. Are there any other issues that you think
the Government should be tackling now in advance of the long-term
policy ultimately being decided, any one of the major critical
things that should be looked at now?
(Mr Barker) One of the early decisions that is required
is a decision on what range of materials is going to be defined
as "wastes" because you need to know that when you are
appraising your options for long-term management against a common
set of criteria. I would see that as an early decision that needs
to be made.
258. And can be made now? The information is
(Mr Barker) For example, plutonium and uranium are
materials which are talked about in the consultation paper and
the opportunity has been given for public views/stakeholder views
to be expressed on whether those materials or some of these materials
should be declared a waste, and I think it would be beneficial
if there were an early decision on that so that when we move forward
with a policy formulation process on long-term management options
we know what range of materials we are including.
(Professor Curtis) If I can bring you back very quickly
to almost where we started talking aboutincessant delays.
Looking at the proposals in the Managing Radioactive
Waste Safely paper, it looks as though we are going to have
a consultation ending March 2002. By the end of 2002 we need to
have this body set up. It must have a remit which will involve
the kinds of things which it must cover, the kinds of things which
Fred has been talking about. It must know what it is dealing with,
what are wastes, what are not wastes, so there are a number of
decisions to be taken in formulating its remit. If it is to do
its job, then it must have resources to take this over, so there
must be a consideration of those resources. Our view, our initial
view I hasten to add, is that we would like to see that body in
place at the latest by the end of 2002 and we have been trying
to think what we might do to encourage that so that there is no
delay following the end of the consultation period. Certainly
there should be a quite specific statement of what must be done
by that date and maybe a timetable to get there.
259. What we do not need is another period of
(Professor Curtis) At that point no.
(Dr Davies) Could I say on the point about decisions
that there are a number of other linked issues as well on which
decisions need to be made. It is not simply the solid waste debate,
you do need to take into account the discharge policies as well.
Clearly that links into how you decommission and deal with material
in the future and also the contaminated land regime. There are
many inter-linking policy decisions which need to be taken before
the process can go forward effectively.
2 A reference to international agreements made under
the Oslo-Paris Conventions for the Protection of the Marine Environment
of the North-East Atlantic. Back