House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TRADE AND INDUSTRY COMMITTEE
Monday 19 June 2006
MR ROGER BRUNT and MR BRYAN REEVES
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Trade and Industry Committee
on Monday 19 June 2006
Peter Luff, in the Chair
Mr Michael Clapham
Mr Lindsay Hoyle
Mr Mike Weir
Mr Anthony Wright
Witnesses: Mr Roger Brunt, Director and Mr Bryan Reeves, Senior Inspector, Transport, Office for Civil Nuclear Security, gave evidence.
Q377 Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome to this effectively final session of our inquiry into issues around nuclear rebuild. It may be the final one but I think it is the first time the Office for Civil Nuclear Security has given evidence in front of a Select Committee, so we are very grateful for that. We do understand that there may be issues you would not want explored in too much detail in public, but we hope the issues of principle will not pose any problems for you. Can I begin by asking you to introduce yourselves?
Mr Brunt: Thank you, Chairman, it is a great privilege to be here. My name is Roger Brunt, I am the Director of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security, I took up the post some two years ago in September 2004 after a career in the Army. That is my background. My colleague is Mr Bryan Reeves.
Mr Reeves: Chairman, my name is Bryan Reeves, I am the principal inspector for Transport Security at the Office for Civil Nuclear Security and I have been with the organisation now for ten years.
Q378 Chairman: Thank you very much. As this is the first time your organisation has given evidence, can I begin with the slowest imaginable ball and ask you to begin by outlining the areas of responsibility of your Office?
Mr Brunt: We are the Government's security regulator for the civil nuclear industry and as such we are responsible for ensuring the standards which have been laid down in a very recent piece of regulatory code, the Nuclear Industry Security Regulations 2003, are complied with across the 47 nuclear sites in this country. Without being too hyperbolic, it is going from Dounreay to Dungeness, from Sellafield to Sizewell. Our activities embrace four main areas: the actual physical security of the sites themselves; information security, so if you are keeping information with sensitive nuclear matters on it you need to make sure that information in whatever media is kept secure; there is then transport security, which makes sure as nuclear material moves between sites it is looked after adequately; and finally personnel security, that everybody who works in the industry, whether as permanent employees or as contractors to the industry, needs to be security-cleared, vetted to a level appropriate to their access to nuclear material. We have some 42 members of staff committed to those activities, the majority are based at our main offices at Harwell near Oxford, on the current United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority site, and clearly with the geographical responsibilities I alluded to earlier we travel the country and are constantly on the road.
Q379 Chairman: That leads me on to my next slightly less slow ball: 42 staff I think you said.
Mr Brunt: Correct.
Q380 Chairman: It does not sound an enormous amount given an issue of this sensitivity and that range of sites.
Mr Brunt: I think, Chairman, we could always ask for more, but the way we currently organise our business I am satisfied at the moment we are currently well organised to do what we are required to do. If I may, I will just go slightly into the regulatory background because I think it will help you understand where we are coming from. Since 2001, with the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which really gave rise to the Nuclear Industry Security Regulations 2003, we have really been able to change the way we do business. Prior to that there was always an element of OCNS inspectors turning up at a site with a clipboard and then making outrageous demands on the site owners in order to make sure security standards were complied with, but with the new regulation which came in it gave us an opportunity to re-calibrate all that we did. So with effect from December 2004 every single site, all those 47 sites, had a new site security plan adopted where we knew exactly where we were and what needed to be done to keep things at the level where they were at, and each one had a schedule of improvements attached to it. So we were able to start from a business where we had great confidence in the structures which were in place, we knew what was required to keep them up to the standard we wished, and very importantly we were dealing with a compliant industry. There is a sense of corporate responsibility, not just at board level but right down to workers at the coal face - if that is not mixing my metaphors - and they have a very strong commitment to security. I know that from my visits to sites and from the times I have addressed trade union meetings, everybody shares that, so it is not as though we are trying to impose something which they are rejecting. So, yes, the numbers are light, we could always do with more, I would be like a boy in a sweetshop if I did not say that, but I feel given the current state of the industry and the commitments we have I am satisfied we can deliver the job as it should be done.
Q381 Chairman: Thank you, that is helpful. Reading your memorandum I did not quite understand your relationship with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Perhaps you could explain that and perhaps give us an indication of the size of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary as well.
Mr Brunt: The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is about 700 strong all up. They provide an armed guarding service on those sites where we need to have an armed guard on the category of nuclear material at those sites. Again if I may can I delve slightly into the past so you understand the background to it, prior to October 2000 when OCNS was formally established and became part of the DTI as an independent regulator, there was really no mechanism whereby sites and the chief constable of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary, as the CNC was at the time, could arbitrate between the levels that a company was prepared to pay and what the chief constable was saying was necessary from an operational point of view. So as the OCNS was formed one of its most important jobs - and I believe my predecessor set this up - was to establish something called the Standing Committee on Police Establishments, or SCOPE, where as the chairman I have the ability to arbitrate between what is necessary on the ground from the chief constable's point of view and what I believe is necessary, and also to make sure that the companies are prepared to pay for the posts which are in place. That is one very important part of the mechanism, it is making sure that we have an arbitration service so we can put in place what is needed to secure this nuclear material. The other side of it is that I, as the regulator, can lay down the standards which I expect the chief constable's officers to achieve. I do not have the presumption to tell him how to achieve it but I tell him what I want to have in place and I think that gives a very useful yardstick for us all to work against. As an observer on the Civil Nuclear Police Authority I am able to ensure my views are heard at the authority. I agree it is a very strange relationship, particularly with people who have been used to Home Office forces with just a police authority and the chief constable, and this third area really just reflects the fact that this nuclear material is of such potential significance that we need to make sure no risks are taken with regard to looking after it.
Q382 Chairman: Is the constabulary effectively always paid for by the industry?
Mr Brunt: That is absolutely correct, yes.
Q383 Chairman: So it is rather like the arrangement between a football club and a chief constable who will arbitrate and say, "You need this many police to deal with any situation"?
Mr Brunt: You are right, Chairman, and you are right too that the entire police force is funded by the industry, so if you have a policeman on site then you will pay for him. I believe in Canada there has been an arrangement whereby a local force has been contracted to provide an armed guarding service at comparable nuclear sites in that area and I think when that started they had an arrangement which ran for three years where the levels of numbers of police were agreed at the beginning of that three year period. At the end of the three year period there was an exponential increase in the numbers as a result of recommendations by the chief constable and there is a sense of frustration now between the two parties that there is no way of adjudicating in those circumstances. One of the advantages with OCNS and my role in particular as chairman of SCOPE allows us to make sure things are kept in proportion.
Q384 Chairman: Can I clarify one thing. We will be asking some questions later about some of the detailed security issues and I expect Mr Reeves will want to come in on those, but I want to understand the scope of your responsibilities. We have heard evidence so far on this Committee that the general public are worried about the big incidents, the classic illustration of that is the aircraft flying into a nuclear installation, but actually they should not be worried about that, the risk is small and the containment is very good, and it is the smaller risks down the chain they should be more concerned about. Would you give advice on the issues relating to a plane flying into a nuclear installation or a bomb going off at a nuclear installation? You start at every single level?
Mr Brunt: Absolutely, yes. The site security plan, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, which each site has, has to lay down the provisions for every reasonable contingency which can be foreseen. You are quite right that the nuclear installations do represent a tempting target, in the same way that this building and next door do as well, and because of that we would get involved very much in the studies we would take and the measures and procedures which should be taken to mitigate the effects of any of those scenarios you postulated just now. We must be realists about this, we are risk-managing in OCNS, we can only make sure that we take every reasonable precaution, but there will always be a chance, in the same way that there will always be a chance of an attack on the London transport system; we try to police out everything we possibly can and take every reasonable precaution to do so as far as the major incidents are concerned. As far as the lesser incidents are concerned, it is very much the case that the requirement is for us to keep going round with the messages that it is complacency, human error, we must guard against all the time. I believe the system we have, whereby OCNS inspectors at the working level visit the sites regularly in order to make sure the site security plan is being complied with, is a big advantage. In my time I have taken to discussing these matters at board level with the various nuclear operators in the country and also by engagement with groups such as trade unions. We have spread the message as far as we possibly can. In my annual report each year I try to make sure that people are hoisting on board this message about complacency, it is the enemy we must fight against all the time. It is a long time since 9/11, those messages are blurring, and similarly with the 7 July attacks last year, those messages are blurring as well.
Q385 Mr Hoyle: Just to follow on from that, have you responsibility for material being moved by road and rail between sites?
Mr Brunt: Yes, I do.
Q386 Mr Hoyle: So it is responsibility wherever it be? The material is your responsibility?
Mr Brunt: Road and rail.
Q387 Mr Hoyle: In the air if need be?
Mr Brunt: If need be. In ships, if they are British-flagged ships, we have responsibility for them as well.
Mr Reeves: The nuclear industry's security regulations, aside from setting requirements for security on a nuclear licensed site, also cover the transport of nuclear material. I must make that clear, nuclear material, not radioactive material. All civil nuclear material by road, rail and sea within the UK and anywhere in the world on a UK-flagged vessel.
Q388 Mr Hoyle: Just to put our minds at rest, what are the chances or risk of a dirty bomb taking place? None?
Mr Reeves: A dirty bomb constructed from -----?
Q389 Mr Hoyle: Blowing up one of your installations or your material.
Mr Brunt: I think there is always a chance it could happen and it would be wrong of me to suggest otherwise. I think the measures we have in place reduce that risk to the absolute minimum.
Q390 Mr Hoyle: The OCNS has changed in recent years since the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and obviously the Energy Act 2004. Do you think these changes were necessary and, if so, did they go far enough?
Mr Brunt: I am absolutely convinced that the changes were necessary. If I may, I will just tell you why I think that. The Office of Civil Nuclear Security had its origins in the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority security branch and, as such, we were part of a company which was operating just one of the sites. We need not go back into all the history but at the end of the 1990s there was an issue concerning police numbers at Dounreay and the chief constable at the time chose to resign because he made a recommendation as in effect a UKAEA employer to the UKAEA board to increase police numbers and the board turned down his recommendations, so he felt his position was untenable. It was as a result of that that an inquiry was held and it was decided to move the OCNS into the Department of Trade and Industry in October 2000, which occurred and they set us up with an independent adjudicator to fulfil the function I have described earlier.
Q391 Mr Hoyle: We went to look at Dounreay and there was total disarray, there were not even armed guards there at one stage. We hope that will never ever be repeated and we will never forget what we looked at when we got there. One of the changes was to ensure that if anybody enters a nuclear site you can charge them, whereas previously people used to trespass but you did not have the powers. Now you have the powers. Could you tell me a little more about that?
Mr Brunt: You will recall that there were two major incursions into Sizewell a few years ago, before and after Christmas, and as a result of that one of the criticisms which was levelled against us was that there was no power on the statute book to make unauthorised access to a nuclear site a criminal offence. I raised that point in my annual report last year and I am delighted to say the Government responded and in clause 12 of the Terrorism Act this year that offence was put on to the statute book and I am grateful very much that is now in place.
Q392 Mr Hoyle: Obviously there are ways in which you would wish to see your work or powers change further, are there any particular ways now that you are looking for more support from the Government?
Mr Brunt: I think we are currently well structured to look after an industry which is basically in decline and is de-commissioning. From that point of view, I am satisfied with broadly the parameters we have got. I would always take more, because that is in the nature of an individual, to ask for more, and if we took more we could do more of the same and give a greater degree of warm feeling that what we are doing is correct and delivering. I do think, and I suspect this is probably where your question is coming from, if there are changes in the industry to come then I would fully expect us as an organisation to have our role and our structure and our affiliations, as it were, reviewed to see whether we are doing it the right way in the circumstances which were then postulated.
Q393 Mr Hoyle: There are other parts of the nuclear industry, how are you linked to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate? Do you meet on a regular basis, do you share ideas?
Mr Brunt: We do, yes. We personally get on very well at every level. I am not just saying that, it would be easy to come in here and say that everything is fine and dandy. Clearly we understand that many of the items which are important to the NII are of equal importance to us, and it would be absolutely daft if we did not have an effective working relationship at every level. There have been times when we have had to liaise, de-conflict, make sure we are doing the right thing, but it has been my experience in the just under two years I have been doing this job that there has always been a very sensible and pragmatic approach, and where there have been areas where we have had to agree a slight difference in interpretation we have done so without undermining the requirements either of the safety side or the security side. I would reassure you that the NII and OCNS work extremely closely together and I am very satisfied with the rapport and the service I get from them.
Q394 Mr Hoyle: You did mention that you have a force of 700-strong.
Mr Brunt: Yes.
Q395 Mr Hoyle: Do you share with local constabularies where you have installations so there is a back up and a sharing of knowledge?
Mr Brunt: Yes. We have a programme of exercises which takes place at every nuclear site. Not all our sites have CNC officers at them but everywhere there is one those exercises will involve the local force. It is probably worth making the point that the Civil Nuclear Constabulary have been employed there because they can provide an armed guarding response to the security of the site, they are not there for a public order role. So if there is an incursion which develops into a public order problem, I would expect support from the local forces to respond and provide assistance. In order to achieve that, it makes absolute sense we practice the various levels of command, and that is gone through meticulously, if I may say, at each of the exercises that we do. There are also local memoranda of understanding between the chief constable of the CNC and the chief constable of the local force involved, so that they all understand where they are coming from. Indeed, over the past six months we have been putting a particular emphasis on this because I think it is an area where we can never do enough in order to make sure that people know each other on a personal basis, and that there are contingency plans to bring individual or bodies of officers from a local force to a site in order to react to a public order problem. You cannot practice that enough in my view, particularly as some of these sites are quite remote and it would be quite a logistical exercise to get people there in time to make a difference.
Q396 Roger Berry: Good afternoon. If there were to be new nuclear build in the UK, what would the role of OCNS be in the regulatory framework? Where would you fit into the jigsaw?
Mr Brunt: I take it the question really is looking at what would we do in the licensing process and then what would we do once the sites were established.
Q397 Roger Berry: Yes, there would be issues about location of site, types of technology, and so forth, and to what extent would your views on security matters impact on those decisions?
Mr Brunt: If I was being really straightforward and just putting the blinkers on and giving a straightforward approach, I would say as the security regulator nobody is going to make any potentially new nuclear site live with nuclear material until I have approved the site security plan. We would then conduct pre-commissioning inspections to satisfy ourselves that our requirements had been met. That is the blinkered answer. In actually going about the design of the site, clearly we would have a very clear wish to make sure that the lessons which had been learned over the various generations of nuclear power station construction were then reflected in whatever site was being built. If you look at the three generations of power stations we have in this country - Magnox through to the advanced gas cooler reactor to the pressurised water reactor - each one is a step change in terms of increasing its natural security and its ability to withstand current threats. So we would not expect any lessening of the standards we are at now. When a potential contractor gets to the point where he is submitting to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate a design for a new nuclear build, we would expect to get involved, firstly, by saying straight away under Regulation 22 of our Nuclear Industry Security Regulations we want to make sure the information he is supplying, which is sensitive nuclear information, is being guarded properly. We would not want him splashing it across everywhere so the design is available as a blue-print for someone to plan an attack in the future. That is the first step. Then as the planning and the licensing process continued, we would want to make sure that in effect a security statement of requirement was included right from the word go in the planning and design of the site. There are lessons we have learned, and an obvious one is if we could avoid having cars parked on every nuclear site, that is a state of Nirvana for us which we would want to achieve very early on. So we would insist no cars parked on site right from the word go. It is those sort of practical lessons we want to see reflected in the design process right from the word go. As far as the design itself is concerned, we are not the only ones who would have a view on this, it is very much an NII bailiwick and the Environment Agency or SIPA who would have that; we would just be checking on the security of the site. Clearly if someone is going to come along with an idea of putting up a Chernobyl-type reactor, it would be a big no, no. It is a ridiculous example but that is the sort of thing we would want to stop and just make sure that anything which was adopted reflected best practice.
Q398 Roger Berry: In relation to choice of location, is the process there that the company comes along, says, "We would like to have a facility on this site" and then you do the security assessment of the appropriateness of the site, or do you offer advice to the industry, to Government, about general considerations in their security which might suggest there are certain sites which you feel are more appropriate than others? To what extent are you at this stage identifying sites which from a security point of view would just not be sensible? Are you reactive or pro-active, is what I am trying to say.
Mr Brunt: I am reactive, but I hasten to add I am not giving anybody any advice at the moment because I do not know whether the decision has been made to build any. There are things which I would want to see as a security regulator - I would not want to see them in the flight path of Heathrow, for example - which would need to be incorporated in the design, but equally I could not then say, "Actually the best place to put this would be outside, I do not know, Cambridge" when there is no source of water there or no access to the national grid. So this is not something I would expect to have a view on all by myself, I would expect to be involved very much in the process with the NII ensuring that their needs conform to my needs and vice versa. There are certain things you would expect to have - the water supply, the access, the link into the grid - there are things there which are important to us. Once the site is there, once it is built, it is something which you cannot camouflage, it is going to be there and people are going to know it is going to be there.
Q399 Roger Berry: If the existing nuclear capacity were to be replaced, let alone increased, that would presumably impose a substantial demand on your staff?
Mr Brunt: Yes, it would.
Q400 Roger Berry: Would you have staff to do it? Are the skills out there?
Mr Brunt: The skills are there but I personally do not have the staff to do it. In the time frame we are looking at, if a nuclear new build is decided, then I am confident there is time to recruit those staff to deliver what is required. I have enough at the moment to do the basic number-crunching, the basic thinking through, but in terms of the actual work on the ground, yes, I probably would need more people to achieve that. But I am confident there is time to recruit them in the period available.
Q401 Roger Berry: So the kind of concerns that other witnesses have expressed in relation to people not going into nuclear for a career because there has not been new build for so long, and therefore they have expressed concerns about the lack of appropriate skilled workers, in terms of your activities as an inspectorate, you do not see that as being a significant problem?
Mr Brunt: Not for me. I think it is probably worth dwelling on that. I am not a nuclear physicist, I have a history degree but I have spent 31 years in the Army where I spent 13 years on active service in Northern Ireland and the Balkans, and in staff jobs over here I was responsible for co-ordinating the response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak and also the firemen's dispute a few years ago, so I am bringing skills which are important to this debate in terms of the security of a location. I do not need to be a nuclear physicist to do that but I am humble enough to go on nuclear courses where they are giving a basic grounding of the knowledge so I understand what they are talking about, and there are plenty of people I can go to for advice and I do that. I have attended courses which have been laid on by British Nuclear Fuels, by fuel re-processing experts, so I have an awareness of what is required. To answer your question, yes, as long as I have people, like my colleague, Bryan Reeves, who spent a similar career in the armed forces and also in the police, and as long as we can get those security experts who have garnered their experiences in government service over an earlier career, then I am confident we can turn those skills to the sort of activities which are probably going to be needed should the decision to build new power stations be taken.
Q402 Roger Berry: Some of our witnesses have not been concerned about security issues for nuclear new build, others have been critical of security issues in relation to what we have now. How critical do you think the security issue is in relation to a decision whether or not we should have nuclear new build?
Mr Brunt: I personally think it is paramount. You may say, "You would say that, wouldn't you", but I do mean it. It is so important that people have confidence in the industry, if we decide to go down the new build path; we must make sure that people have confidence in this. I think if I was presiding over an organisation which was really just paying lip service to the need for security, if I felt the people I deal with on a day-to-day basis were just treating security in a light-hearted manner, I would be extremely concerned by it and it is something which I would be taking to the barricades over. We must make sure that people are confident in this industry and that people's commitment to security is more than just lip service. I have to say at board level, at working level, at the level of security professionals that my people deal with on a day-to-day basis, I have seen no evidence that people are taking security and their responsibilities lightly.
Q403 Chairman: Your organisation is full of security experts who apply their knowledge to the nuclear industry rather than the other way round; rather than nuclear experts who learn security?
Mr Brunt: Absolutely, yes.
Q404 Chairman: For the constabulary that is essentially a pretty conventional policing role in an unusual situation?
Mr Brunt: It is conventional in that they are authorised firearms officers. The reason why we have a police force guarding our nuclear sites is because in this country we only allow the armed forces and the police to carry weapons. We could not go to Group 4 and ask them to provide an armed guarding service at Dounreay, for example.
Q405 Chairman: But they do not need to have any knowledge of the nuclear industry at all to police the facility?
Mr Brunt: Absolutely.
Q406 Mr Weir: When you answered one of Roger's earlier questions about new nuclear sites, you said you would not want to see one under the flight path of Heathrow, but the evidence we have from the generators themselves seems to suggest any new nuclear stations are more likely to be on existing sites than completely new sites. Would you feel confident that existing sites would be able to take new nuclear generation? Would you expect to be involved in an early stage to advise on security for any nuclear new build on an existing site?
Mr Brunt: Yes. I certainly think that the majority of the existing sites would be capable of having, in most cases, a third nuclear power station built on them, I have no difficulty with that at all. The reason why I hesitate slightly is that there are some where you just want to make sure that the geology, and people's perception of it, has not changed over the years. I do not want to mention specific sites because I think somebody is bound to come back and give me a hard time about it later, but we need to make sure that those which are very close to beach sites, for example, are not in a position where coastal erosion is going to take them away. I hasten to say there is no danger of that at the moment but we need to take a long-term view of it. Yes, I think the existing sites are the way forward and certainly I would have no difficulty with them from that point of view in terms of making sure that they conform to the security requirements we have there at the moment.
Q407 Mr Clapham: Mr Brunt, could I first of all ask a question about the safety regulation of the industry as it relates to new build. For the first time I think it is fair to say nowhere else in the world have private companies, quite separate from either regional or central government, gone into a civil engineering project of the size of building new nuclear power stations as will be the case here in the UK. Do you feel that may have an impact on the way in fact your organisation works or do you feel that there is sufficient regulation to ensure that private companies will have to work collaboratively with yourselves?
Mr Brunt: I am confident that the regulations that we have got give us the powers in order to do what is required. If I was to say I was worried about anything, it is the fact that at the moment we do a security vetting service of everybody who works in the industry. Last year we issued some 17,976 clearances. It is a challenge doing that with people who live in this country. If we then have to start vetting people from overseas as well as part of the scenario you have just postulated I think that would be a challenge for us and it is something we would need to be very careful about making sure we do it properly. It would make no sense to allow people to be constructing a site who might subsequently then pass that knowledge on to a third party with a malicious intent. From that point of view, yes, there is a concern there and we need to bottom that out. In terms of the actual mechanics of the regulation, again it is back to what I said in an earlier answer: the site security plan has got to be approved, the pre-commissioning inspections have to occur. If someone comes from overseas with a plan to build a power station I am going to slap on some restrictions to make sure those plans do not go into the public domain and he will have to understand that in the interests of security he is going to have to work within those parameters. There may be a bit of blood on the carpet but we are going to make sure this is done properly in a way that we can have confidence in.
Q408 Mr Clapham: Looking at the regulation of the civil nuclear industry, there is some indication that regulation responded quite swiftly to the post 9/11 situation.
Mr Brunt: Yes.
Q409 Mr Clapham: Given your role, do you feel that regulation is sufficiently manoeuvrable to respond generally to changes in the industry?
Mr Brunt: I do because we have been doing a lot of work recently with the NDA, particularly as they start their competition, for example for the low level waste repository at Drigg which will be the first candidate for being put out to competition. We got very much involved in that process. I am confident that our engagement in that has shown that we can come with a package to potential buyers. I took part in an industry day seminar where some 100 companies were represented and we were able to explain what we did as regulators on the security side and it provoked a lot of questions. It was a great debate but I was confident that they were saying, "Okay, fine, these are the rules of the game". As long as they know what they have got to do I think there is a degree of confidence beginning to build in that. I believe that will happen again should we go down the path of new build and again it is a case, particularly if we get foreign companies coming in, of just making sure they understand the ground rules here in the United Kingdom. I should add too, we do meet with our European counterparts on a reasonably regular basis at the European Nuclear Security Regulators Association. The last time that we got together we went to Finland to see the new power station that was under construction there which in some ways will give lessons to us over how it is being done. It is a turnkey facility, so they will turn up "Here you are" and you go and start operating it. I think the Finns have learnt a lot of lessons from how to regulate that and we are benefiting from learning from their experience and trying to incorporate anything we might have to do in the future on the basis of those lessons, someone has already done it and recently.
Q410 Mr Clapham: Can I just explore that a little more. Is there a kind of council then of people like yourselves who have a responsibility to various countries in Europe on which you come together to exchange experiences?
Mr Brunt: Yes, we do. We try to meet about every six months and if people are unkind they say it is like a nuclear cooks' tour of Europe, and there is an element of that. Frankly they are very valuable lessons. Okay, we have been to Madrid and Finland and Brussels but we have had the opportunity to exchange a lot of useful work. I have to say that our regulatory set-up, the fact we have had the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, the Energy Act, the Police Force, it has generated more interest from others in the way we do things which is an indication that perhaps we have got some of the answers right. I find it a forum that I get an enormous amount from and I have learnt a lot from it.
Q411 Mr Clapham: Thinking about your exchanges with experts from other countries, are there any areas that you see in the UK which are inefficient which you think could be made better?
Mr Brunt: There are several models about how to regulate and I think the area that perhaps you are alluding to is the business of should we separate safety from security. There are many people who do not do that and I think there are synergies there that might be worth exploring in our case as well. At the moment we have a system that, as I said earlier, works for us. I would be arrogant if I said to you that we can never learn to do things better, we are always seeking to learn to do things better. Part of the process of seeing how others do it gives us the opportunity to explore things. For us, as things are at the moment, the industry is in decline, it is decommissioning, we have a system which currently works, it might not if things change direction in the future and we might need to think again and I would welcome that debate, frankly.
Q412 Mr Clapham: Finally, in terms of the interchange that you have with colleagues in Europe, is there a great deal of difference in the way in which Europeans regulate their civil nuclear industry from the way in which we regulate ours?
Mr Brunt: The basic principles are broadly the same. We are all very much aware of the guidelines issued by the IAEA and we clearly seek to comply with them. Clearly there are areas there where we have no choice, I cannot go away and think up my own idea of how to define what is a category one quantity of nuclear material. Those standards are laid down for us by the international community and I welcome that. Having said that, when we see people on the continent it does give us the chance to see the way they do business. There are some countries, and I think it is probably invidious to name them now, where I simply would not use their model and we spend a lot of time trying to persuade them to do things in a slightly different way. There are others, and perhaps I should mention this, like the French, where our two methods are very similar and it is very reassuring that we have this forum where we can get together and discuss the issues, and where there are differences because of the way a country might do things we can understand why they do that rather than because it is a basic philosophical diversion which points up a failing on our part; it does not generally do that, we understand why they have to do it.
Q413 Mr Clapham: Finally, finally, Chairman, there are obviously issues where there may be a difference of opinion between yourselves and the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate regarding, as you said, the safety issues. If that occurred is there a mechanism by which you can come together to resolve the problem?
Mr Brunt: I think Mike Wakeman and I, who is the head of the NII, would find a pub and we would have a couple of beers and we would sort it out between us. It is a flippant remark but we do not have problems. We have had a number of issues over the time that I have been at DCNS where we have had to talk together and we have come up with solutions that have worked. It might be something as straight forward as a fire door which they want to keep open but we want to keep secure, there are ways of achieving that. That is an example that I would put to you but then there are other areas too where in the process of clearing up some of these legacy stores that we found a crate which has got, from the tests, an indication of a greater quantity of nuclear material in there than we thought was the case. We have then insisted that the appropriate measures to guard it have been put in place and then rather than leaving it at a place where clearly it has not been constructed to keep it there we want to move it to a location where it can be done so we then pull together the safety experts who tell us whether we can move it without damaging people on the way, we make sure the place you are taking it to can take it in terms of its protection both from physical and guarding and then we make sure that on the transport side there is nothing to stop us bringing it over. This is not something we want to take a stand on and say "It is your problem, mate, sort it". We have got to get together and work out how to fix it. Each of us has been set up to look after a specific area of critical importance to us all as citizens of this country and we believe passionately in making sure that this nuclear material is kept in a way that it should be kept appropriate to the threat it poses as an element.
Q414 Chairman: There has been no occasion on which you have come across an irreconcilable conflict between the safety of the nuclear personnel and the security of the site?
Mr Brunt: Chairman, in the time I have been in DCNS there has not been any occasion and I am not aware of any in the past.
Q415 Mr Weir: Right at the beginning you said that you stretch from Dounreay to Dungeness, Sellafield to Sizewell which is a wide spread of nuclear installations within the UK but obviously because of that there are transport of materials between these sites on some occasions. Now many environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, have expressed concern about transportation of fuel waste and other radioactive materials and they have argued the arrangements for transportation leave these materials vulnerable to terrorist attack, theft, accidents. They have questioned the co-operation between yourselves and other agencies like the HSE and local forces. What is your response to these worries?
Mr Brunt: I am aware of the submission they have put in recently. I know it is very much at the moment a matter for inter-departmental consultation between the DTI and also the DfT. I am quite clear that we are applying regulations which have been agreed to international standards. We are making provision for the secure transport of those materials so they are secure from theft and from sabotage and I am satisfied the measures we have in place achieves it. I would be the first if those standards change to ensure that all those movements were done in a way that complied with the current regulations. I do not want to sound as though I am being complacent, I am not, I think it is inherently too dangerous a commodity to be flippant over, we are not. I am quite clear that the measures that we have in place fulfil the remit that has been placed on me as the regulator to guard against theft and sabotage.
Q416 Mr Weir: What about road accidents involving nuclear transport?
Mr Brunt: Can I ask Mr Reeves to answer that who has a great knowledge of all the various containers that are used. This is not a hospital pass but I think he can probably answer convincingly on the class themselves.
Mr Reeves: Of course, the measures that we have in place as laid down in the nuclear industry's security regulations provide that nobody may transport any nuclear material without being firstly approved by our office, and to do so they must transport it in accordance with previously agreed security standards. As far as accidents are concerned, one can never legislate for accidents. However, the packages that nuclear material is transported in are designed to internationally laid down safety standards which provide for protection in the most severe of accident scenarios. From those standards we security professionals can also derive a certain degree of comfort in that if the packages are designed to withstand the most severe of accidents then it can follow also that they will offer some protection in the event of a malevolent act, which of course is the aim of security. Safety is there to prevent accidents, security guards against a malevolent act. To pick up on the latter part of your question, we are in regular contact with other security agencies: the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, clearly, Home Office forces, where appropriate, TRANSEC being responsible for the transport of other dangerous goods by road and rail in the UK. Whilst it is very easy for any report or the media, for example, to make comment about perceived inadequate security standards, that also ignores the need for confidentiality of the security measures that are in place and the contingent plans that are already in place. Clearly we cannot publish those.
Q417 Mr Weir: In answer to an earlier question you said that you had regular training with local forces around nuclear installations but transport of waste and materials is another problem in that it will go through areas perhaps where there is no experience of dealing with nuclear installations. I wonder if you have contact with other police forces that perhaps do not have nuclear installations on their patch, so to speak, to give them specific training and advice in the event that there is an accident, sabotage or whatever of one of these nuclear convoys passing through their areas?
Mr Reeves: The types of nuclear material we are talking about here, without wishing to get into too much fine detail, the very highest category of material, categories one and two, moves on a very, very infrequent basis and would not be permitted to move by my office without the most thorough co-ordination, a whole series of meetings with all bodies concerned. The lower category material, typically spent nuclear fuel, fresh fuel, certain other types of material, is moved on a regular commercial basis throughout the UK. That sort of material is class seven dangerous goods as defined by the United Nations' Orange Book. It presents no more of a hazard than, indeed, many other classes of dangerous good. Where necessary and, where appropriate, prior liaison is already undertaken with any other emergency services and the emergency services are geared to deal with it as, indeed, they are geared to deal with any dangerous goods in transit.
Q418 Mr Weir: Picking up again on one of Michael Clapham's earlier questions, presumably if the Government goes down the route of a national repository for nuclear waste, and it is still quite a long way away, there would be considerable movement of waste around the country. Would you have to look anew at your procedures to deal with that situation and have increased liaison with other forces, increased numbers to deal with that perhaps substantial movement of waste?
Mr Brunt: I would certainly welcome any further increase in liaison with local forces. Indeed, we have recently started an initiative which has been sponsored by the British Transport Police whereby they are getting in local forces who are particularly affected by current movements to ensure that our procedures are as good as they can be. As far as a national repository is concerned, I would not shut my mind to anything that I would consider to be a measure that would improve security. I would welcome a greater involvement, a greater profile amongst security professionals in the police force of this country in order to make sure those materials are given every consideration from a security point of view. I have no difficulty with that at all and I would encourage it.
Q419 Mr Weir: Moving on to the current storage. Obviously facilities for storage around the country vary, facilities for storage of waste have lower safety and security standards than nuclear reactors, and some have been described as little more than sheds. Given that CoRWM's interim report has suggested that it would take decades before existing intermediate and high level waste is placed in long-term geological storage, do you envisage making any changes to the current regime of storage for intermediate waste?
Mr Brunt: From a security point of view I do not because the standards that we have got at the moment are such that they reflect the regulation. If we have category one levels of nuclear waste at a particular site then they are looked after to the point of category one security. I would reassure the Committee, if I may, that just because we are not in a permanent repository nuclear waste is not simply being disregarded and left lying around, it is being looked after as well as we possibly can do in the circumstances.
Q420 Mr Weir: I do not think anybody is suggesting that but much of the existing storage was considered to be temporary pending the decision on storage, which has dragged on now for decades and, according to CoRWM, it may be some decades before it is ever produced. Are you satisfied that existing systems are sufficient to store that waste for the decades ahead before there is, if there ever is, a national repository?
Mr Brunt: Given that we do not have a national repository, yes, I am satisfied it is stored to the standard we would expect it to be, but it is a temporary solution and it will not be as good as a permanent solution which is represented by the repository that CoRWM has reported on. That is what I would wish to see. If we could achieve that sooner then I would welcome that because from a security point of view it would mean that less resources are being diverted to look after the material than would be the case if it was all in one place in a properly constructed and secure repository.
Q421 Mr Weir: How temporary is temporary?
Mr Brunt: I do not wish to sound facetious but temporary is the time it takes to get the repository built and the materials moved to it. I am a security man, not a constructer.
Q422 Mr Weir: Would there have to be considerably stricter security standards for storage if uranium, depleted uranium and plutonium are classified as waste? If so, have you made any estimate of the extra expenditure?
Mr Brunt: I have not made any estimate of extra expenditure but I can say that these are category one materials and they will be looked after in accordance with category one standards. The additional expense will lie in the armed guarding that will be required from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, and that is a significant cost over an LCBL for a company storing such material. In terms of changing our approach, it is quite clear we have standards for that type of material at locations and they will be applied rigorously.
Q423 Chairman: We do not want you to comment on the merits of new nuclear build or no nuclear build, but a recurring theme of the evidence we have had over the last few sessions is if there is to be new nuclear build - if there is - public confidence in the need for and in the integrity of that process must be maintained. Clearly, to my mind security issues are one of the central issues there. What role do you think OCNS would have in maintaining public confidence in any new nuclear build?
Mr Brunt: You really pointed out in your opening remarks that this is the first time we have appeared in front of a Select Committee and, frankly, I welcome this opportunity to raise our profile. I think it is incumbent on me to give the public an assurance by my actions, if not by what I say, that they have got a responsible, proportionate and effective regulator here who is looking after the security of this material. I do have to recognise the reality of my situation. I am a civil servant, I am part of the Department of Trade & Industry, and ministers will wish to take the lead on many of the issues that I get involved in. In the meantime, I must back that up with being seen to be effective as a regulator and every opportunity I have like this in order to reassure the public through your good offices, I welcome it and that is what I intend to do throughout the period of my contract at DCNS.
Q424 Chairman: At the risk of ending with an equally easy ball as the one I started with, we have also heard evidence that people tend to focus more on the very, very small probabilities of very, very large events and that excites people more, newspapers can write stories about that much more excitedly, whereas so often in any system it is the much higher probability of a much less exciting event that ought to be concerning them. You will be able to tell me, I am sure, that they all have an equal priority in your thinking.
Mr Brunt: They certainly do when the phone goes at two o'clock in the morning. The critical thing is that we cannot afford to take chances. I think such an important part of my job is to ensure that complacency does not set in, whether it is an individual looking after his laptop with classified material on it when he goes on a train or whether it is making sure that a vehicle is properly searched when it makes a delivery to a site, all these things are important. Day after day when there has been no incident, I know human nature, people get bored, they get complacent, they cut corners, and that is what we have got to stop. It is very much a key role for the OCNS inspectors and myself to make sure that complacency does not set in.
Q425 Chairman: Unless my colleagues have any further questions, gentlemen, we are very grateful to you for breaking your duck - another cricketing metaphor - and thank you very much for the evidence you have given us, we are grateful.
Mr Brunt: Chairman, gentlemen, thank you very much indeed, we are grateful for the opportunity.
Chairman: Thank you.
Witness: Professor Gordon MacKerron, Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, gave evidence.
Q426 Chairman: Professor MacKerron, welcome to this evidence session on the issues to be considered when discussing nuclear new build. I wonder if I can begin, as we always do, by asking you to introduce yourself to the Committee for the record, and perhaps couple that up with a question that flows naturally from that, if you could explain your involvement in the Energy Review process, in your capacity as Chair as CoRWM and any other way that also appears relevant.
Professor MacKerron: Thank you very much. Thank you for giving me the opportunity of giving evidence today. Yes, I am Gordon MacKerron. I am here today principally in my role as the Chair of the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Manage, which is advising Government on long-term options to manage radioactive waste, for which there is no current management route. As it happens, I spend some of my time directing an energy research group, which gave evidence to the Energy Review some time earlier. My preference, where possible, will be to wear the hat of the Chair of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, because that is my principal task and on which I believe you are most interested to hear. If people wish to ask me other questions, of course I will not refuse to answer them but I will be wearing the hat of the Chair of the Committee unless I take it off and tell you I have put another one on.
Q427 Chairman: You will tell us when you are changing hats because it is not very visible from where I am sitting at present.
Professor MacKerron: Indeed.
Q428 Chairman: Thank you. What is this Energy Review? The press keep on telling us that it has already made its mind up, it is pressing ahead with a nuclear programme and it is trying to legitimise that with the Energy Review process. I have to say I am a bit inclined to that view when I consider that your recommendations are only in draft - they have been published, which is welcome - but the Government intends to make a definitive statement within about four weeks and you have not produced your final recommendations yet. It does not seem to me that your issues are being taken full account of in the review process.
Professor MacKerron: Perhaps I can give a small bit of background. We were set up as a committee in November 2003 and although within our terms of reference it did say we should look at all possible future states of the world, including potential new nuclear build, that was not really even on the political horizon at that time. The Energy Review, as you know, is a much more recent event. When we agreed our timetable with the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we agreed to report by 31 July, having initially asked to report as late as November which would have given us the three years that Defra and the devolved administrations initially thought it would take for our work to be complete. We have been working extremely fast. We will just about make 31 July. We have been keen to distinguish ourselves as a separate issue from the Energy Review because by definition, since no decision has been made yet to create any new wastes, the main focus of our work inevitably has to be on the management of the very large legacy of waste which will exist irrespective of any decision for or against nuclear new build. We are keen to remain separate from that process and we have already made in public, on more than one occasion, the statement that our recommendation should not be taken as either a red or a green light for new build because although there are some issues that are relevant, we do not see our report as being directly relevant to the question of new build within the review.
Q429 Chairman: Just to be clear, you are still intending to report on 31 July.
Professor MacKerron: We are.
Q430 Chairman: Probably some ten days after the Government announces its conclusions to the Energy Review.
Professor MacKerron: That may well be true. All I would say is ----
Q431 Chairman: I am not criticising you for that. There is no criticism intended.
Professor MacKerron: At some point in 2004 we agreed a date. We have been asked whether or not it is possible for us to issue a final report ahead of 31 July and we have looked very hard at whether or not that is possible but the logistics simply do not work. When on 27 April we published our draft recommendations, we also made it very clear that we did not expect materially to alter those recommendations when it comes to our final report. It is worth saying that since that time we have gone out to a very brief period of further public and stakeholder consultation and we have had generally a favourable response to those draft recommendations. There are very few people who have suggested to us that our draft recommendations should be materially altered. Although it is the case that we will not, as it were, finally pronounce until the end of July you can probably take our draft recommendations as a very clear indication of where we are going to end up. The detail may change, but the direction and the substance is extremely unlikely to change.
Q432 Chairman: Before I hand over to my colleague, Mike Weir, can I just clarify one thing in your draft recommendations, I think it is recommendation seven, about community involvement in new proposals for the siting of long-term radioactive waste facilities. You say that participation should be based on the expectation that the wellbeing of the community will be enhanced. How will the wellbeing of the community be enhanced by it being chosen as a repository for nuclear waste?
Professor MacKerron: We presume that the act of choosing, which in our view will be partly made by the community itself, would, if unaccompanied by anything else, be a detriment as perceived by that community and others. An important part of our recommendations, which we do want to be seen as a package, is that the community would negotiate, not without constraint, some package of measures which would more than compensate for the perceived detriment of the sacrifice of being the host for that repository. What the details of that compensation would be would be very much up to the community and the relevant authorities, including national government, to negotiate. It might include monetary elements, it might include infrastructure, training and others, but we are not really in the prescriptive business of saying what such a package might involve, only that we know it would be necessary and that a basic principle is that the community involved would have to play a large part in that process and not have it, as it were, imposed upon them from the outside.
Q433 Chairman: Rather like the planning gain that planners look for in the planning process.
Professor MacKerron: That is certainly one way of looking at it.
Q434 Mr Weir: Your interim report suggested geological disposal for long-term storage of nuclear waste, but if I understood correctly from your opening statement you said that you started looking at this on the basis of disposing of historical waste rather than new build. Do you think the creation of new waste under new build would in any way alter your view on the best way to dispose of waste?
Professor MacKerron: There are two parts to that question. The first part, which is the technical one, which we looked at some time before the Energy Review was announced, was whether or not there would be any serious technical obstacle to housing the waste from a new build programme in the kinds of facilities which we are recommending, which as you rightly say is now in the long-term by geological disposal. The answer very simply is for the kinds of reactors that are probably going to be proposed, and if they are built, then the kids of waste they would produce, spent fuel and possibly the products of spent fuel, would be similar to those that already exist and would not pose a significant technical problem in principle. What we are saying, and we think it is extremely important to say this quite loudly as well, is that the politics and the ethics of a deliberate decision to create new waste are different from the inevitable need to manage existing legacy wastes which are the result of past activity over which we now have no further control. We are very keen to say that although you would not want to reinvent our committee and start from the blank sheet of paper that we were asked to start from, you would have to ask for any future assessment process for new build to include a proper assessment of the specifics of any proposal for waste management for that new build.
Q435 Mr Weir: Would you see that assessment process taking place prior to a decision to go ahead with new build?
Professor MacKerron: I think inevitably it would have to take place in relation to any specific proposal. We are not in the business of trying to advise Government on how it might put forward any proposals it might have on new build. We would expect Government, as it has in the past, when it came to the detailed assessment of any specific proposal, to include waste within the assessment process and not take it as something that had in some sense been nodded through because CoRWM had made its own report by the end of next month.
Q436 Mr Weir: Can you tell us what other options you considered for disposal of waste apart from geological disposal?
Professor MacKerron: Certainly we considered initially up to 15 potential options, some of which seemed quite bizarre - disposal in space - but we did so only because serious scientific communities at some point historically have done so. As quickly as we could we reduced those 15 initial options to what we regarded as four but they are essentially variants of two different things. One is, as we have recommended, deep geological disposal - we prefer the word "geological" because "deep" is a slightly ambiguous term - or some form of what we called interim storage, in other words a robust continuation of present policy. We were very persuaded that because the timescales in this business are long and you cannot guarantee institutional control into the indefinite future that reliance upon storage on an ongoing basis risks a loss of institutional control in a way that geological disposal does not. Given that we have sufficient confidence in the long-term safety of geological disposal, that was the primary reason why we recommended that head of storage. In our view, there were no other major technological options that could be taken seriously in the near future. There are many other possibilities but none of them is anywhere near the possibility of constructing them within the next couple of decades.
Q437 Mr Weir: You also said in your report, if I recall correctly, that it could be some time before a long-term site is available and obviously there is the need for interim storage in the meantime. Could you tell us what factors might delay the determination of a final site for storage?
Professor MacKerron: There are two parts to that again. One is the inevitable minimum period that it would take to go through proper due process, both in political terms and in safety terms and community consent. The other is the risk of delay. If you take, for example, the views of Nirex, who previously had, and to some extent currently still have, responsibilities in this area, they said not that recently they thought a repository might be ready to take waste by about the year 2040, or as it is now 34 years from now. Because we are suggesting, in addition to the process that Nirex suggested, one in which communities have to be willing to participate and negotiate some agreement to participate, that is likely to lengthen that timescale rather than to diminish it. Although we have not finally committed ourselves to what we think timescales might be, we think that a reasonable minimum time is of the order of 35 to 40 years, and that is if everything goes well. I can give you some international analogies to show that is not very out of line with other people's experience. The second part, briefly, is there could be delays. We have had 30 years' worth of delay and have not got anywhere very much. It would be foolish to discount the possibility of further delays, either because of local opposition or because, for example, once a site is investigated it is discovered that it is not actually suitable. The earth sciences community is very definite that it may take them up to ten years to investigate any specific site and while it might be generically suitable it is always possible that there might be local factors that would cause you on safety grounds to have to abandon a site and start again. That is the kind of technical factor that could lead to delay. We feel it is important that the interim storage arrangements are robust to both the inevitable minimum time and the possibilities of delay or even, in the last resort, failure, although we do not emphasise that particularly.
Q438 Mr Weir: I take a point the Chairman made earlier about the volunteerism aspect of local communities. Nirex's experience has been quite the reverse, whenever they suggested a site there was massive local opposition to it. Do you see that changing in the foreseeable future? In your scheme of volunteerism do you envisage adopting what I believe is the model in Finland where the local community can effect a veto and say they do not want it in a particular place?
Professor MacKerron: I think it is the essence of an approach that asks for community willingness to participate that up to a certain moment in the process the community has to have a right to withdraw. Beyond that moment, of course, it does not, especially after serious expenditure is incurred. If I can give you an anecdote which I think has very great weight. When we visited Sweden as a committee and we spoke to the mayor of one of the communities that was involved in a competition to be the host site for the Swedish repository, the mayor said to us, "The only way in which we could ever have said yes to this proposal was that until a certain moment we were given an absolute right to say no". In other words, he was saying had there been some sense of imposition on them they would have fought it almost irrespective of the technical merits of the proposal. Although people think that asking communities to volunteer is like turkeys voting for Christmas we do not think that an imposed solution will work and we do have experience from both Finland and Sweden where communities have volunteered and even competed. Although we cannot transpose that experience directly we think that offers a much more promising and realistic way forward than the previous attempt that Nirex were involved in to impose a site and a solution on a community without its involvement or consent.
Q439 Mr Weir: Given your answer to the previous question, do I take it that we would have to investigate several sites at once because of the dangers of one or other site being geologically inappropriate after some considerably investigation and possible expenditure on it? At what stage, if you like, does the competition come in? You will have to look at several sites and there will be expenditure and decide on a potential site, but do you envisage several sites having a competition between communities for whichever site will be chosen?
Professor MacKerron: It is very hard to say how it will work out in practice. If it were the case, for example, that there were two communities however defined, and that is an important issue in itself, willing to participate and be involved in the process then it may well be a very good thing to investigate more than one site, apart from anything else to make sure that there was a better chance that one would definitely prove suitable. It would be idle to pretend that the politics of England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other, might not come into this. We are not going to make any siting recommendations. What we will almost certainly say is we want the minimum number of sites necessary to achieve the objective. I do not think we are in the business of prescribing issues of how many sites might be investigated, it will depend upon how many communities volunteer and the resource commitment that will be involved in investigating several sites. Detailed decisions of that kind are very much for Government, or oversight bodies that might succeed us, to take if and when our recommendations are accepted.
Q440 Mr Weir: One final question on this. You also say in your report that there should be the minimum transportation of waste. Do you envisage one national repository to take all waste or do you envisage more than one to avoid large-scale transportation?
Professor MacKerron: Clearly minimising transport where possible is an objective. We are not going to prescribe that there will be only one site, we are going to say simply that one should minimise the number of sites and, as you rightly say, avoiding unnecessary transport is one of the issues in that respect. There are certainly arguments in relation to security that suggest minimising sites may be a good thing to do as well. We are not going to pronounce on the exact number of sites, we are just going to say we minimise the number. The presumption is the fewer the better.
Q441 Chairman: You referred just then to "oversight bodies that might succeed us", I think that was your phrase. Your final recommendations are in July, presumably there is then a process of discussion with the Government about those recommendations, but what happens to CoRWM then after they have either accepted or rejected your recommendations?
Professor MacKerron: It would be very nice to know. We have got an assurance from Government and the devolved administrations that we will be kept in existence at least until November, and possibly December, to answer questions on our recommendations, to make sure that our audit trail is as firm as it can be and possibly to initiate some further discussions. I think it is going to be important for Government to make a decision whether or not it wishes to pursue our package of recommendations. There has been an inter-departmental group meeting now for the best part of a year to think about how the baton can be handed on, to use an athletic rather than cricketing analogy, from ourselves to the process that follows. I imagine they will be anxious to try and make sure there is not discontinuity. We are certainly very keen that momentum is maintained. We are also very keen to say to Government that some kind of oversight body with some independent membership, although of course accountable to Government, should be set up to help maintain the higher degree of public trust that I think through CoRWM we have won. We have reasonably well succeeded in establishing some level of public confidence and stakeholder confidence greater than when we started and we think it is important that that be maintained in some way, but Government will clearly have to make its own decision.
Q442 Chairman: Your draft recommendations have been in the public domain for some two months now. You must have a reasonable gut feeling now whether the Government actually likes them or not.
Professor MacKerron: Indications are that Government is reasonably happy with them, yes. I think we would have heard by now because we talk regularly to our sponsors, who are independent, but we are accountable, they are people whom we have to please in the last resort. We have had discussions and nothing in those discussions suggests that Government is deeply unhappy but, of course, our discussions are principally at the level of the Civil Service and we know there are big political decisions ahead, so it would be wrong of me to anticipate what Government might actually decide, but indications are reasonably good, yes.
Q443 Chairman: This time the recommendations might actually be acted upon.
Professor MacKerron: We very much hope so.
Q444 Chairman: This time round. One last question from me before I bring in Mick Clapham. Do you have any idea at all of what the sort of order of magnitude of cost this long-term storage is going to be. The NDA is going all over the place with decommissioning costs at present which seem to be going up quite sharply. After all, if the industry is to make private sector investment in new nuclear build it must be charged with the costs of waste disposal, so they must be able to give them some kind of indication of the kind of levy that is going to be imposed upon them to pay for the costs of that long-term disposal.
Professor MacKerron: The mechanism that might be used is one that clearly we have not been charged with looking at and we are not making any clear recommendations on. In terms of the total cost, we know that Nirex costed reasonably carefully on an engineering basis and from the bottom up what the kind of repository it was trying to build near Sellafield would cost in about 1997, and the answer was of the order of - let us give it a round number - £10 billion for the entire repository, including the development work and its other operating costs before it closes. If a repository was built that was designed to accept all categories of waste that cost would rise, we have been advised, by of the order of maybe two or three billion, but within a very wide uncertainty range, and the uncertainties are very much more weighted towards the upper end, increases in cost, than towards the lower end. Until any particular design and site has full regulatory approval it will be difficult to know whether that is realistic. As I say, we have not looked at the funding regime. If it were the case that Government did decide on new build, and if it decided that the waste from that new build would be housed in such a repository, then clearly some formula would have to be found. In volume terms it would not add a very great deal, at least until you have got a very large number of reactors, to the material already being housed. We have not been into that issue in any detail. No doubt the Treasury and others will be doing the arithmetic and the companies involved might be doing the arithmetic, but we have not done any detailed work on that.
Q445 Mr Clapham: Given that the committee has made it clear that it does not want to be seen to be taking a view on new nuclear build, but in relation to what you said about your indication on your recommendations, do you feel the Government could take the recommendations as an indication that you are giving the go-ahead for nuclear build because we can manage the storing of waste?
Professor MacKerron: It is very difficult for us to speculate on what Government will do with our recommendations. I know that when the DTI published its consultation document for the Energy Review it quoted us as having already said that there would be no major technical obstacle to accommodating new build waste in the kind of facilities we are looking at. At that time we had already said that we thought the politics and ethics were different. As it happens, the DTI chose not to publish that part of our recommendations at that time. Clearly people will select from our recommendations according to taste. There is nothing we can do to prevent that, but we are very keen to say that we have no remit in terms of the new build debate, no view, but, even more important, we do not see our recommendations as either a red or a green light for new build and we do think that the waste issue that would emerge from new build would need to have its own assessment process because, as we say, politics and ethics are different when you decide to create new waste from the inevitable need to manage legacies.
Q446 Mr Clapham: On that new waste and new build, the new build is likely to be private. I do not think there is another country anywhere in the world that has embarked on private nuclear build, it is generally there is either input from central government or regional government. Are there any implications for waste management from privatised ownership of the new nuclear build?
Professor MacKerron: This is not an area which either in my capacity as a researcher or as Chair of CoRWM I have ever investigated in any great detail, so it is not an area on which I have any expertise. I cannot offer any help on that.
Q447 Mr Clapham: Given that the new nuclear stations are going to be rather different from the older ones - we have a mixture of Magnox, advanced gas-cooled reactors and then, of course, the pressurised water reactor at Sizewell - is there likely to be a difference in the type of waste? For example, some people are saying there will not be as much low level and intermediate waste but there is likely to be more high level waste. Will there be more high level waste and is that likely to have implications for storage?
Professor MacKerron: We have looked at that on the committee. We have made the initial assumption that the spent fuel from any new nuclear reactor programme would not be subject to reprocessing, to separating out the plutonium, the uranium and various other fission products. If that were the case then the waste from a new build programme, let us say notionally of ten large reactors, would increase the total volume of spent fuel to be managed by of the order of five times, but it would only increase the volume of waste across the board by about ten per cent. The reason for that disparity is that historically we have nearly always reprocessed spent fuel so that the spent fuel turns up in the form of plutonium, uranium and intermediate level and other wastes. If it were not so reprocessed in the future it would be concentrated as spent fuel, but there would be only marginal additions to the other categories. Of course, we do not know whether or not the spent fuel would be reprocessed, we made that initial assumption and nobody quarrelled with it. Just to go back to the overall question about volumes: while the total volume might increase by only of the order of ten per cent if there were a programme of ten reactors, the total amount of radioactivity to be managed would go up by a factor of about three. Both those figures are misleading. It does not mean that because the radioactivity goes up by a factor of three that the problem is three times more difficult; nor does it mean because the volume only goes up by ten per cent it is only ten per cent more difficult, there is something in-between those two numbers. The interesting thing is what is the footprint of that waste relative to existing waste, and the answer is it is somewhere between those two rather extreme figures. I think both need to be borne in mind in thinking about the scale of the issue that would be raised.
Q448 Mr Clapham: Obviously when Government is thinking in terms of making the decision, how far do you think we must be down the line towards actually making a decision on the solution of geological storage before the order is given to go ahead with the new build?
Professor MacKerron: It is very hard for us to say. That is the kind of political question that is somewhat beyond our remit. The only thing I would say is, as I said to the Chairman earlier, although we have had reasonably favourable indications from Government that they quite like our recommendations, you have to bear in mind that we are an advisory committee and our constitution does not allow, I am glad to say, advisory committees to make policy. Clearly Government will have to endorse the policy if it chooses to do so, and it will then, no doubt, choose to move some way down that path in order to implement it. When the problem is in some sense managed is very much a political decision. Clearly our recommendations do not solve the problem, our recommendations are the first step in what we think will be quite a long process, and we hope very much it will be successful but it will still be a long process, of managing the waste into the future.
Q449 Mr Clapham: And an extremely costly one. We are talking in terms of £90 billion at the present time for decommissioning. There has been a figure of £20 billion suggested, and it may well be in excess of that, for the storage. Can we afford it?
Professor MacKerron: There is a question of what we can afford to do if we do not. If we take the current state of radioactive waste and think about its safe and secure management into the future there is a certain irreducible need. If we were to decide nationally not to go for disposal but to continue to store, there would still be very large costs and, of course, they would then be costs that would impose themselves on future generations to a larger extent because if you continue to store and refurbish or rebuild stores there are significant costs there and they would then be ongoing for many decades, and possibly even centuries. One of the advantages of a geological disposal option is although it will still take time, it means that the generations closest to those who have benefited from the original activity will still be bearing most of the cost, both in terms of financial and radiological impact, and further future generations will be exempted from those costs, and under the "polluter pays" principle we think that is a rather good idea, but we still recognise it is a lengthy and, as you rightly say, costly process.
Q450 Chairman: Can I clarify a couple of things before I bring in Tony Wright. At the risk of being pedantic, what you are saying is the high level waste increases which would be associated with a programme of new build are largely the product of ending reprocessing rather than the build itself.
Professor MacKerron: What will happen, we think, is if there is new build, as with any existing reactor, you get spent fuel. Most, if not all, pretty much all, of the high level waste in this country is contained within the spent fuel. Sometimes through reprocessing it gets separated and the stream known as high level waste is then solidified and made into glass blocks and left to cool for some time. If you do not reprocess it then all that high level waste is contained within the matrix of the spent fuel. The amounts of waste you produce are very similar, we think, to any potential new reactors from the amounts of waste that you produce from existing reactors, it is just the form in which they show up and need to be managed is different if the choice in the future is not to reprocess them.
Q451 Chairman: You did also say, if I heard you correctly, that new build would need its own waste assessment, I think that was the phrase used. Can I just ask you to clarify that.
Professor MacKerron: The very minimum thing you can say is that there is an existing statutory requirement to justify any new radioactive practice which requires an assessment of the justification for that practice. Clearly one of the things that would be done if there was new build would be the creation of radioactive waste and the existing legislative framework requires that that be assessed. How big that assessment would be and what form it would take would clearly not be for us to determine, but what we do want to be sure is all our recommendations are not, as it were, a green light to saying it is easy, you can just stick it in the CoRWM repository because we know that people may wish to argue the ethics and the politics of the creation of new waste because there is always the alternative in relation to new wastes of not creating them, of using some alternative energy source which creates no new wastes, and that is ethically and politically a different question from the inevitable need to manage existing wastes.
Q452 Chairman: It means by a process of reductio ad absurdum that the work you have been doing up to now, quite understandable - again this is not a criticism of you - refers entirely to the legacy waste, which has to be dealt with anyhow, and is therefore completely irrelevant to the main Energy Review itself.
Professor MacKerron: I do not think it is completely irrelevant because clearly if it were the case that Government decided in favour of our recommendations and moved ahead with them there would be some movement in the management of legacy wastes and it would be foolish to imagine that would not have some impact on the political debate, and I would expect it to do so. We are keen to say, because it was the basis of our being set up, that fundamentally our recommendations are in specific terms about legacy wastes.
Q453 Chairman: Of course, how you charge for any additional use of a very expensive capital facility is quite an interesting decision for the Government too between marginal costs.
Professor MacKerron: It is a very interesting decision and one that will have political as well as economic elements, I imagine.
Q454 Chairman: The cross-subsidy could go in either direction.
Professor MacKerron: Undoubtedly it could.
Q455 Mr Weir: On what you were saying about the impact of new wastes, would that make a difference in the way the repository was formulated and how a community might look at it if they were looking at whether to take a repository? I imagine that with historic waste there would come a point where that would be it, there would be no more going on, but if a repository was taking new wastes for many, many decades to come you could have new waste coming in, transported into that repository, and ever growing.
Professor MacKerron: That is an issue which we have looked at. We looked at the case of Finland quite closely. We are very strongly of the view that if a community is negotiating a package in which it agrees to be the host for a deep repository, it would need to know the extent of the inventory they were signing up for, how much waste they were going to get. If there was then a decision later that more waste would be created and there was a desire to use the same facility for those wastes then we are saying you would have to go back to that community and try to renegotiate the total inventory and accept that you may or may not be successful. The Finland analogy is that the initial negotiation with a community that has agreed to host the waste is purely for legacy wastes. Subsequently Finland decided to build a new reactor and another negotiation took place in which the community then made a second decision that it was willing to accept the waste from the fifth Finnish reactor as well. We think the process in the UK would be an analogy to that in negotiating with host communities here.
Chairman: That is very interesting. You may need to put your different hat on for these questions.
Q456 Mr Wright: I think this might be one that you have not got a hat for. This is on wider new build issues. Quite clearly this is an important topic we are concerned with within the Committee. Witnesses have emphasised the importance of long-term carbon pricing and the creation of a level playing field for creating the incentives for nuclear. The industry in particular has said that it does not want Government subsidies or guaranteed prices. Do you think that carbon pricing is the way to finance new nuclear build? Do you not think it will prejudice investors against technologies that are not market-ready but could play a role in the longer term?
Professor MacKerron: I will take off my CoRWM hat now and put on my hat as the Director of Research Group at the University of Sussex, and let me make that absolutely clear. I have not been studying this issue for the last several months because I have been very busy with CoRWM but I have looked at some of these issues in the past. It is very difficult to say what would work and what would not work. It is very difficult to calculate what the financial risks would be of new nuclear build. I have also heard that industry representatives say they do not wish to have subsidy and I imagine that Government would not be anxious to offer such subsidy. I have said, and on the public record, that I do think there are important questions of the kinds of guarantees or, for example, the capping of liabilities that private investors might wish to see if they were willing to make such investments, but I am not in touch with that community. I have not researched it recently but I imagine there would be an important question on the terms under which an agreement might be made if private investors were to be willing to reduce the risks to a level that was commensurate with the return they thought they might get.
Q457 Mr Wright: The Sustainable Development Commission has told us how it fears a decision in favour of nuclear will lock us into a centralised grid network. Is it possible for the Government to pursue a policy in favour of both nuclear power and also microgeneration?
Professor MacKerron: It is possible to pursue both, and up to a certain point. A lot depends upon the extent of any future commitment there might be. If there was a commitment in any way like that which the French Government made in the 1970s which ended up with about 80 per cent of their electricity coming from nuclear then you would have to say once one got anywhere near the level of commitment to nuclear it would be impossible. You could run the two things in parallel in my opinion for some years, as long as you did not commit very large amounts contractually to the construction of a large number of nuclear power stations upfront, and whether the Government would ever do that or not I cannot tell you.
Q458 Mr Wright: What sort of percentage would you consider would be a large number in terms of electricity generation?
Professor MacKerron: It is very difficult to give you a number. If it were the case that the Government made an upfront commitment to the building of ten large reactors, which is the kind of thing that elements of the industry have said for some years might be desirable, then that would clearly be a serious discouragement to other ways of managing networks if it were really a contractual commitment that was adhered to. I would have thought that would be a fairly financially and economically risky path, but of course it might be taken. Anything significantly short of that would allow you to pursue different options simultaneously for some time to come, and a reasonably risk-averse government probably would not wish to close too many options too quickly.
Q459 Mr Wright: Finally, do you think a programme of new nuclear build would displace current efforts on renewables and energy efficiency?
Professor MacKerron: Well, it is very hard to say. It depends on the context. A programme of new nuclear build might be accompanied, and I speculate entirely here, by some reinforcement of the incentives given to renewables precisely because Government might fear that commitment to a nuclear programme might act on its own as a disincentive. It is very difficult to say because Government is likely, one hopes, to think of these things as a package and not just a commitment, if it is inclined to make it, to nuclear power. I think energy efficiency is more likely to be some sort of discouragement because I do think that in cultural and social terms a message that somehow nuclear power will look after the problem and it will be done in a centralised way with lots of Government involvement might seem to send a message that personal and individual responsibilities, and community responsibilities for carbon emission reductions, including energy efficiency, were less important. These are difficult things to contemplate. I would say as a basic answer that much depends on whether Government reinforces the material and other incentives for things like renewables and energy efficiency at the same time because I do not imagine it will make any commitment in a policy vacuum.
Q460 Chairman: Those were very helpful general answers at the end. Before I ask my final question, is there anything else that you would like to share with the Committee wearing whichever hat you choose to put on to make your point?
Professor MacKerron: Thank you very much for that liberal offer, but no.
Q461 Chairman: I say this to a former adviser of the Committee so you know the form.
Professor MacKerron: I do. Thank you very much for the opportunity. With both hats I have covered all the issues I wanted to communicate to you and I thank you very much for the opportunity to do so.
Q462 Chairman: Can you just indulge me in one last detail. I have been intrigued by some of the press reports I have read about the difficulties involved in these long-term waste issues, communicating to future generations hundreds, nay thousands, of years hence what actually lies beneath their feet in the deep repositories, and speculation of the need for nuclear priesthoods that pass on the secret from generation to generation, new languages, new iconography to warn future generations. Has CoRWM spent much time looking at this issue?
Professor MacKerron: The short answer is no. If I may expand on it slightly. Clearly CoRWM would not have had as clear a view as it has broadly had in favour of geological disposal as a kind of endpoint to the process had it not had quite robust confidence in long-term safety. We know that there is no way in which you can guarantee priesthoods or other communities in existence for even a few hundred, let alone a few thousand years. I think our recommending geological disposal is based on the notion that you would not need such a priesthood or such a system of iconography or other things because, although one can never be certain of anything, there is pretty good assurance that the risks to generations literally hundreds of thousands of years into the future are so small that they would not need those kinds of systems which, again, as I say, nobody in this generation could remotely guarantee would still be in existence.
Q463 Chairman: So memory fades, paper perishes, CD-ROMs decay, you are not concerned at all about the historic record of what lies there.
Professor MacKerron: We are concerned and we will almost certainly recommend that for as long as institutional control persists there should be a monitoring system to show, and hopefully reassure, people that there is no impact on their health from the existence of a deep repository, but we also know that it is impossible to guarantee it. The only thing I would say is that radioactivity decays as well. Beyond a very few thousand years into the future, long as that may seem, the total level of radioactivity coming from such a repository would have declined very significantly, and in a million years - a long time - it will have decayed to levels that are of almost complete insignificance. One should bear in mind that although it is a very hazardous material it does actually decay and the hazard does reduce gradually over time.
Q464 Chairman: So no CoRWM based competition for some new design to warn people of the dangers?
Professor MacKerron: We have other internal competitions but that is not one of them, no.
Chairman: I would love to pursue that with you but I think I had probably better not. We are very grateful to you, thank you very much indeed.