Examination of Witnesses (Questions 52-59)|
TUESDAY 9 JULY 2002
52. Gentlemen, we will get started. I am not
sure who wants to lead off and introduce themselves.
(Dr Parr) Yes, I am Dr Doug Parr, the Chief Scientist
for Greenpeace in the UK. My colleague is Peter Roche, who has
taken a longstanding interest in the nuclear issue and all of
its different facets. Do I need to introduce Greenpeace?
53. No, I think we have that. Thanks very much
for coming this morning. I think you have been sitting in for
the last round, so you know the areas that we are wanting to home
in on. Obviously there are some which are more pertinent to your
activities than perhaps to a trade association, but I think where
we would like to start is that obviously this does not come like
a bolt from the blue; we had a hint of it last November. What
was your organisation's first reaction to the White Paper? Do
you think that it really addresses the challenge of the nuclear
legacy? Maybe we could start there. We will probably spend the
whole morning answering these questions in one form or another,
but by way of introduction.
(Dr Parr) Okay. I think we have a couple of main criticisms
of the White Paper and the proposals for a Liabilities Management
Agency. I would like to say that although we do have those, and
we consider them very substantive criticisms that cannot be gainsaid
or wished away before its creation, the general principle of bringing
some greater political will and intent to the management of the
nuclear legacy is a good thing, so to that extent proposals like
this are good, but, and it is a very hefty "but", we
have two main criticisms, as I say. The first is the context in
which it is being thought about, being created. We have a nuclear
waste crisis, I think it is fair to say, if recent leaks of reports
from the NII and NuSAC are to be believed, and what is not happening
is a commitment to end the generation of further nuclear waste
both through existing processes, the continuing operation of Magnox
reactors, continued reprocessing. Secondly, the onward commitment
of potential new nuclear liabilities and new generation of nuclear
waste through the freeing up of BNFL to continue the nuclear industry,
particularly the construction of another set of nuclear power
stations, which would have implications there flowing from that
for waste, particularly high-level waste, which we would be very
concerned about. I think at that point I will just hand over to
Pete to say a little bit more about the closure of Magnox reactors
(Mr Roche) There are a couple of things which worry
us about the continuing Magnox programme. BNFL have committed
themselves to closing the Magnox reprocessing plants by 2012 and
it is our view that there is already sufficient spent Magnox fuel
in the system, in the storage ponds and in the reactors, to keep
them going until around about 2012 simply because the throughput
has been so bad since around about 1996 and it is not improving
fast enough. Secondly, during the recent Environment Agency's
reauthorisation to the discharges for the Magnox programme, in
that process we made various representations which led to the
Environment Agency requesting BNFL to carry out an independent
financial, or ask the opinion of independent financial experts
as to whether it was actually economic to continue running the
Magnox reactors. They actually refused to do that and at the end
of the day the Environment Agency's report said that the situation
was not fully resolved to their satisfaction, so there is obviously
still a question mark hanging over the economics of the Magnox
programme. In a report, which I can leave a copy of for you, which
Mike Sadnicki has recently done funded by Nuala Aherne, the Irish
Green MEP, he says that "the Magnox programme is causing
cash to haemorrhage from the Magnox cycle at an alarming rate".
Then on the question of continuing with reprocessing at THORP,
as the Committee will be well aware, British Energy in particular
have been keen to cancel their contracts with the THORP reprocessing
plant. They told the PIU that they reckoned they could save about
£250 million a year if their spent fuel was stored rather
than reprocessed, so we think that there ought to be an element
of renegotiation of the THORP contract undertaken by the new organisation
and not left to BNFL. Then also, looking at plutonium, the British
stockpile currently stands at around 60 tonnes and if the current
contracts are carried out for Magnox and AGR reactors, that will
probably increase to about 120 tonnes. With this material, which
your own Committee has described (I cannot remember the exact
phraseology) as something of a problem, actually we could prevent
50 per cent of that problem developing if that reprocessing was
to end fairly soon.
54. Maybe we could stop there and pick up one
or two of the points you have raised. Could I first get a handle
on the Magnox programme. Are you suggesting that all of the Magnox
stations should be closed at the end of next week, basically;
or are you wanting more of the Magnox stations, which are still
deemed to be operational, to have their date of closure brought
forward? My understanding is that some of them are being closed
at a more rapid rate than you seem to be suggesting. I think the
argument you are making is one that, if made two years ago, would
have been perfectly valid; but now events have overtaken us, have
they not, to an extent? Are you suggesting they should all be
closed immediately, or that the programme of closure, which has
been brought forward, has not been brought forward far enough?
(Dr Parr) On safety grounds, given that
these are very old reactors, we have got very considerable concerns
55. Are you concerned that the Nuclear Installations
Inspectorate is not doing its job?
(Dr Parr) We do not think it is adequately scrutinising
and adequately following through on the safety concerns that we
have about, for example, Wylfa power station. I mention that as
a forerunner to say that is why we want to see them closed tomorrow
afternoon, and not next week, to press forward any necessary safety
procedures on shut-down. What Pete was doing was outlining our
concerns in relation to the Liabilities Management Agencythe
future generation of liabilities through the reprocessing of B205.
56. I wanted to get on the record about Magnox.
I understand your position on reprocessing, which is a well established
one. Since we last got information from you there has been this
change in BNFL's approach. They are beginning to suggest with
Magnox it would be better to finish it sooner rather than later;
but you are saying that "sooner" is still too long?
(Dr Parr) Yes.
(Mr Roche) To give you an idea, BNFL tell me that
at the moment there is about 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes of Magnox spent
fuel in the system. If they continue with the closure programme
as they have outlined it at the moment that amount will increase
to around 11,000 to 12,000. The throughput of the Magnox reprocessing
plant is not anywhere near enough to reprocess 11,000 tonnes between
now and 2012, so that is the concern at the moment.
57. We will take that point up with BNFL this
(Dr Parr) Just to be clear, 2012 is the commitment
under international negotiations for the closure of nuclear plant.
58. You make the point about British Energy.
Some of us around this table have had the bleeding heart stories
from British Energy on a number of occasions. We well remember
them coming in very strongly on the issue of surface storage some
years ago, and then walking away from it just as soon as they
had got a better deal at the time. This seems to be a rather crude
and simplistic negotiating ploy which they blow the dust off every
so often when they have a cash flow problem. I am not quite sure
if I would endow it with quite the strength that you put on it,
but maybe I am being the cynical politician.
(Mr Roche) The last time I spoke to British Energy
a few weeks ago, although they dropped their reference to the
Office of Fair Trading, they still said to me they were keen to
carry on trying, in whatever way they could, to end their reprocessing
contracts as soon as possible.
59. They are in the toilets financially and
looking for any ways of cutting costs, whether it is on environmental
grounds or whether it is on business grounds.
(Dr Parr) Being a cynical environmentalist, I do not
think environmental grounds is the leading light in their rationale.
1 Witness's note: Our view is that the Magnox
reactors should be shut. Back
Witness's note: This should be "the closure of the
Magnox reprocessing plant". Back