Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Nirex

  Nuclear power is one non-carbon energy source that was discussed in the PIU energy review. The long-term management of radioactive wastes was highlighted as an issue to be addressed when considering developing new nuclear power stations.

  Nirex's Mission is:

  To provide the UK with safe, environmentally sound and publicly acceptable options for the long-term management of radioactive materials.

  Radioactive waste exists whether or not new or replacement build takes place. It is a scientific, technical, social, political and ethical issue and due to the long time scales involved should be dealt with on behalf of society.

  Nirex does not advocate new build but must inform itself of the consequences for safe long-term management of radioactive waste of any possible new or replacement build strategy.

  This submission outlines Nirex's view of what the key issues are with regard to long-term radioactive waste management. The submission also highlights views that have been expressed by the public on these issues that, we felt, might be of interest to the Committee.


  In September 2001, DEFRA and the Devolved Administrations launched a consultation paper, "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" to discuss how to develop policy on the long-term management of radioactive wastes in the UK.

  The review was caused by a failure in the late 1990's to implement the policy of deep disposal in the UK. Since then, Nirex has reviewed the events that occurred and identified lessons that it believes can be learned to take forward the development of radioactive waste management policy in the UK.

  The lessons can be grouped under three themes, underpinned by the concept of transparency.

    —  Structure

    —  Process

    —  Behaviour


  The structure of an industry affects the legitimacy of its activities and the visibility of issues to decisions makers. Radioactive waste management involves short-term decisions that have very long-term consequences. Nirex believes that the short and long-term issues need to be visible to the decision makers and that the best way to achieve this is to maintain separate organisations that are responsible for the different aspects.

  The DTI recently issued a White Paper announcing plans to formulate a Liabilities Management Authority (LMA) to focus on decommissioning and clean-up of redundant nuclear facilities.

  Based upon lessons learned and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, Nirex sees the need to maintain an independent, long-term waste management organisation with a separate focus on finding a long-term solution to radioactive waste on behalf of society. In response to Phase 1 of its consultation, DEFRA announced the setting up of an independent body to take forward the consultation process and, in particular, to review long-term waste management options. More announcements are expected later in the year about the organisational structures required.

Commercial Decommissioning and Clean-up Long-term Management

  It is Nirex's view (as stated above) that a separate and independent long-term waste management organisation is needed to work with society to find a long-term solution. Nirex has also suggested that a Policy Board could help DEFRA and the Devolved Administrations to develop and establish Government policy in this area. The Board would assist Government in carrying forward the consultation process that has been started to reach a conclusion on policy.


  A clear decision making process must be set up by Government including how people can be involved, what outcomes are required, how decisions will be made and by whom. There should be stakeholder involvement throughout the process and those in authority should be accountable for their actions and show how stakeholders concerns have been taken into account.

  Nirex favours a policy outlining the process for developing solutions, rather than a policy that dictates a particular option or solution.


  The behaviour of those involved in long-term waste management must be open, transparent and accountable. From the lessons it has tried to learn, Nirex believes that institutional structures with clear accountability and independence from waste producers alongside transparent and accountable processes affect the behaviour and credibility of the parties involved.

  Nirex believes that these lessons would be equally applicable to developments on energy production in the UK.


  Nirex is currently undertaking research into all aspects of radioactive waste management including engineering, technical, scientific, social, ethical, economic and political issues. The total spend on research in 2001-02 was approximately £8.5 million.


  During consultations with members of the public about radioactive waste management, members of the discussion groups have raised concerns about continuing to use nuclear energy when there is no current solution for the waste. Clearly a long-term implementable solution to radioactive waste will be important in building public support for any new nuclear build in the UK.

  Quotes from stakeholder dialogues Nirex has conducted that refer to the link between nuclear energy and long-term radioactive waste management are included below. The references for the reports are listed.

    "It seems irresponsible to create something that you don't know how to get rid of it, how to store it, and it's going to be around for hundreds of thousands of years."[1]

    "There were many references [during the discussion groups] to the short-sightedness of producing wastes for which there is no disposal method available."

    "Protect future generations and stop making radioactive stuff now."

    "Stop additional production of the problem materials. And see where you can move on from there."

    "There were, however, some participants who saw nuclear power as being economically and nationally beneficial or who saw it as preferable to fuel production based on burning fossil fuels."[2]

    "For many people, the scale of the (radioactive waste) problem was a strong argument for stopping nuclear energy now. They were unwilling to separate the issue of waste management from the issue of waste generation. Given that no agreement had been reached on what to do with the existing waste, it was considered irresponsible and immoral to continue producing any more."[3]

    "Dialogue has to keep open the relationship of current (radioactive) waste production and the production of future waste. Dialogue has to take place in relation to the wider context. This wider context includes the whole question of energy supply, looking at both supply and demand sides."

    "Just because the (radioactive) waste will be monitored and retrievable, this should not justify the building of new nuclear power stations."[4]

  Nirex is happy to provide copies of the reports referred to and to discuss with the Committee any aspects of this response.

23 September 2002

1   Future Foundation, Interim report to Nirex on the qualitative focus groups, A report to Nirex, 2000. Back

2   CSEC, The Front of the Front End: Mapping Public Concerns about Radioactive Waste Management Issues, Report to UK Nirex by The Centre for the Study of Environmental Change (CSEC), Lancaster University, 2001. Back

3   Future Foundation, Identifying public concerns and perceived hazards for the phased disposal concept, A report to Nirex, 2002. Back

4   UKCEED, Workshop on the Monitoring and Retrievability of Radioactive Waste, A Report for Nirex prepared by The UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (UK CEED) in association with CSEC at Lancaster University, Manchester Town Hall, 2nd December 2000. Back

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