Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
1. On 12 September the UK Government and
the Devolved Administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland published their consultation paper Managing radioactive
waste safely. A copy is attached to this memorandum.
The paper began a public debate on a proposed programme of action
for reaching and implementing decisions on the long term management
of solid radioactive waste. The Committee's enquiry, and the meeting
of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee
on 23 October, contribute to that debate and are welcomed.
2. The paper explains the earlier failure
to reach a scientific and public consensus on the right way to
manage radioactive waste, culminating in the 1997 Sellafield planning
enquiry and the subsequent decision to refuse planning permission
for a deep rock laboratory. This led to a fundamental review of
UK policy including the House of Lords enquiry into nuclear waste
3. The UK Government and the Devolved Administrations
concluded that there is only one way to decide and implement a
radioactive waste management policy that best safeguards human
health and the environment now and far into the future. That way
is via a rigorous, impartial and very public review of all the
options. Their consultation paper proposes a programme for reaching
that decision. It seeks views on ways of engaging with the public
and building consensus. The detailed consideration of waste management
options is for the next stage in the process.
4. The paper is self-explanatory and includes
an executive summary so it is not further summarised here. This
memorandum addresses the issues in the order set out by the Select
The consultation exercisetimetable and
5. The consultation paper proposes an action
programme including a proposed timescale. But as the paper says,
this timescale depends on future developments, including public
comments on the proposals over the next four months. The Government
will build a sound scientific and public consensus and take decisions
earlier, if it can. The first priority must be to take the right
decision; the next priority is to do so as soon as possible.
6. What should be defined as a waste:
The consultation paper invites views not only on a proposed
programme of action but also on this issue. Some radioactive materials,
such as plutonium or spent nuclear fuel, are not currently classified
as waste. But if at some point it were decided that there was
no further use for some or all of these materials, we would need
to consider how to handle them as part of a waste management strategy.
That is why this issue should be tackled as part of the current
7. Current storage arrangements:
The paper says that radioactive wastes are safely managed and
there is storage capacity for several decades. But the suitability
of stores is kept under review, and new or revised arrangements
may need to be put in place during that period, for example for
low level waste.
8. September 11: The paper was published
shortly after the atrocities of 11 September, which underlined
the importance of taking sound decisions on the safe treatment
of nuclear materials. The terrorist attacks prompted questions:
why does the Government allow radioactive waste, including highly
radioactive liquid waste, to be stored above ground given the
risks of terrorist attack? Why does it not follow other countries'
example and pursue a determined policy of underground storage
9. The Department of Trade and Industry
(DTI) is responsible for the nuclear industry and is reviewing
nuclear security; together with the Health and Safety Executive
(HSE) which is responsible for health and safety.
10. The Government's review of radioactive
waste management optionsincluding, for example, above and
below ground storagewill take into account of these and
other risks. Meanwhile, underground storage or disposal is not
a short term option. It would take many years to find any suitable
location and construct and facility, and large volumes of waste
would have to be transported a long distance from existing stores.
The Government therefore believes that the first priority is to
identify the waste management option, for the complete range of
wastes, which provide the best short and long term protection,
and which inspire the public confidence vital to its implementation.
11. Future decommissioning of nuclear
power plants: Decommissioning strategy is mainly a matter
for DTI and HSE. The consultation paper describes UK decommissioning
policy and the regulatory process. It also sets out the implications
of a change in decommissioning strategy either nationally or at
a specific site. For example, earlier decommissioning of a nuclear
power station could greatly increase the volume of radioactive
waste; though in some cases there could be benefits from earlier
decommissioning, for example to prevent americium build-up in
plutonium contaminated material in some facilities.
12. Construction of new plants:
Energy policy is mainly a matter for DTI and the Committee will
be aware of the PIU review of UK energy policy led by Brian Wilson.
The consultation paper says that new nuclear plants would add
to the volume of waste that would have to be managed, though the
volume of waste produced per unit of electricity might well be
lower than at present. Nuclear's future role will depend partly
on securing public confidence about issues such as safety and
the environment. Issues relating to radioactive waste management
would need to be addressed.
13. MOX production at Sellafield:
The plant's operation would be likely to add around 1 per cent
to the total amount of intermediate-level waste generated at Sellafield,
ie well under 1 per cent to the total volume of UK radioactive
waste of all types.
14. Even if there is no substantial change
to the current strategy on decommissioning, no MOX production
in the UK, and if no new nuclear reactors are built, half a million
tonnes of radioactive waste will arise over the next century.
If there were changes, this could affect the way in which radioactive
waste was managed because it would affect the size and nature
of UK's radioactive waste inventory, for which we are now considering
long-term management options. But it would not change the Government's
overall strategy of reviewing all waste management options rigorously,
impartially and openly before reaching and implementing decisions.
15. Parliament has a vital role in this
process. It can debate the Government's proposals critically and
point to better ways of doing things. Its debates can attract
media attention so that there is more public involvement. And
individual Members can encourage their constituents to get involved.
The Government hopes that all these things will happen.
16. A vigorous and well-informed national
debate is needed on radioactive waste and its management. The
Committee's enquiry and eventual report will help to open up that
17. The Committee's reportand all
the evidence put before itwill be considered by the Government
along with responses to its consultation exercise which ends on
12 March 2002, and will help to decide the next steps in the decision-making
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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