Memorandum submitted by Greenpeace (NPS 12)


1. Introduction


1.1 Greenpeace welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Committee hearing on the Energy National Policy Statements (NPS).


1.2 Greenpeace believes that new nuclear power is inadequate, unnecessary and dangerous. It is inadequate because it offers too little, too late in terms of climate change. It is unnecessary because we can reduce emissions and keep the lights using better technologies instead. It is dangerous because of the intractable problems of radioactive waste and nuclear weapons proliferation. But there is another danger: the danger of distraction. Renewables and energy efficiency are booming in other countries, could be the cornerstone of a green economic recovery in Britain, quickly secure our power and become a springboard for greater emission reductions in future. But despite the UK's abundant wind, waves and engineering skill, lack of government focus and priority means Britain's renewables industry remains tiny.


1.3 Justification for new nuclear capacity in the NPSs is based on an apparent refusal to acknowledge the significant potential for renewable electricity generation. Instead they present a hobson's choice between either more nuclear or more gas, oil and coal: "failure to take account of the ability to develop new nuclear power stations significantly earlier than the end of 2025 will increase the risk that the UK is locked into higher CO2 emissions than would otherwise be necessary. This is because of the high-carbon nature of thermal generation capacity that might otherwise help to meet the demand for electricity."2 It is quite wrong and deeply misleading to present the argument in this way.


2. Views on the National Policy Statements


2.1 There is a significant disconnect between government policy and the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) over climate change. Under the NPSs the IPC does not have the remit to consider infrastructure projects in terms of their potential lifetime greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is because climate change targets are policy issues for government and so outside the IPC's remit. This means that the IPC effectively exists in a vacuum, deciding on major infrastructure projects that will have significant GHG emissions implications, in an economy that is attempting to decarbonise, yet unable to take into consideration the climate impacts of the projects that they are assessing.


2.2 This is a most peculiar state of affairs. It remains to be seen how the IPC can possibly green-light infrastructure projects that will meet our binding climate change targets, or severely compromise them through carbon lock-in, when they cannot consider the GHG emissions of the projects themselves.


2.3 There is also a question of whether the NPSs constitute adequate planning documents. The NPSs are supposed to allow the IPC to make considered and evidence-based decisions on whether to allow major infrastructure projects to proceed, but certainly in terms of nuclear, their considerations must be made having taken suppositions from government on issues such as radioactive waste disposal at face value. Significant concerns exist as to the practicability of safely managing new build spent fuel arisings (not least because the industry has thus far been either unwilling or unable to say exactly how they intend to deal with them), yet the Nuclear NPS instructs the IPC to unquestioningly accept promises from government and industry that arrangements for cooling, storage, conditioning, encapsulation and eventual disposal of spent fuel "exist or will exist" at some unspecified point in the future.


2.4 Given both the lack of concrete proposals that presently exist for dealing with new build spent fuel, and the nuclear industry's dubious safety record and history of evasiveness and dishonesty, this is an extraordinary assumption to be forced to make. This makes it seem as though the sole purpose of the nuclear NPS is to allow the IPC to say "build a reactor" without any real consideration of the technical practicalities of if / how radioactive wastes arising from their construction can be dealt with. Consequently the absence of such significant information that would normally guide planners' decisions means that under no circumstances does the nuclear NPS fulfil its stated purpose.


2.5 Will the IPC be so narrowly focused (because of the guidance in the NPS) that it will only examine site-specific issues (e.g. access roads) as opposed to wider issues of major public concern, such as spent fuel management? Take this theoretical position:


- EdF submit an application to the IPC for Hinkley C sometime in 2010


- Their plans for spent fuel remain as hazy as they are today.


- The regulatory position is that the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) pre-licensing of reactors hasn't properly assessed the acceptability of waste management proposals for the EPR reactor (GDA probably will not finish before 2012 and this issue was specifically mentioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in their 3rd Stage Assessment in November 2009).


- At the same time the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has not finalised the proposals for a Funded Decommissioning Programme (in which potential operators must clarify back-end management plans) and crucial Fixed Unit Price are not expected to do so until after 2011. The public consultations on these have not yet started.


The question is this: will the NPS allow the IPC to freeze EdF's application until these issues are adequately resolved, or will they press on regardless?


3. The National Policy Statement Process


3.1 The amount of documentation that the public must read, understand and consider before they can be expected to make reasoned comments on the conclusions of the draft nuclear NPS by 22nd February 2010 (a period of only 15 weeks including the Christmas and New Year holidays) is vast. A member of the public living near Bradwell in Essex would have to read a staggering 1,674 pages of documents to take in the bare bones of every part of the consultation, including looking at why other sites like Dungeness were not selected. This is more than Tolstoy's War and Peace.[1] Whilst our energy future is an issue that concerns each of us, given its very complex nature and some of the important conclusions the NPS reaches, and the fact that the consultation is running concurrently with the Regulatory Justification consultation (and other consultations e.g. CoRWM's consultation on new build wastes), we believe the amount of data and the confusing way in which is has been presented by the Department for Energy and Climate Change have made entirely unreasonable demands on the public and local authorities.


3.2 The overall emphasis of the Energy NPSs is skewed in such a way as to paint new nuclear in an overly positive manner, to the detriment of alternative renewable technologies. For instance, there are 39 references to the term "employment" in the nuclear NPS[2] but no references to the same term in the renewable NPS.[3] The nuclear NPS also consistently refers to "energy" and conflates this with "electricity", giving a further misleading appraisal of the potential for new nuclear.


4. The need for new nuclear


4.1 The nuclear NPS claims that new nuclear is needed because "excluding nuclear power as an option for generating electricity would make it harder and more expensive to meet our emission targets. It could also jeopardise the security of the UK's energy supply." 2 Greenpeace strongly refutes this notion. We do not believe that there is an overriding national need for any new nuclear generating capacity.


4.2 Even the most optimistic estimates suggest that new nuclear will provide only a 4% emissions reduction sometime after 2020.[4] Our binding target is a 34% cut by 2020.[5] Nuclear is presented as a key pillar of energy strategy. It is not.


4.3 The UK can reduce emissions and keep the lights on using better technologies instead. In the next decade meeting our existing renewables and efficiency targets would safely close the 'energy gap' and cut emissions, while leaving plenty of potential to expand renewables even further later.[6]


4.4 There have been claims that nuclear power could supply 40% of the UK's electricity beyond 2030.[7] Greenpeace is doubtful that in a liberalised energy market the possible size of the generating fleet can be determined. What can be safely assumed, however, is that if new nuclear produces not just 10GW but anywhere up to 23GW or more this will crowd out sustainable energy alternatives. If government continues to favour nuclear power, through direct or indirect political or financial support, utilities will follow their lead, which would be to the detriment of renewable energies. A massively expanded new build fleet would also have enormous implications for the management of highly radioactive wastes, for which there is no proven solution.


5. Regulatory Justification


5.1 The UK government has yet to confirm whether the practice of operating the new Areva / EdF European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) and Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors is justified under EU law.[8]


5.2 Justification is a regulatory requirement under EU law that must be completed before new reactors can be built. Justification is a high level strategic assessment in which the disadvantages of a 'practice' involving releases of ionising radiation (in this case new nuclear power and all associated activities e.g. spent fuel storage and disposal) are weighed against its potential benefits (economic, CO2 emissions etc).


5.3 There is an on-going consultation on this issue that will not conclude until the end of February 2010. Though the government has reached a preliminary conclusion that new nuclear is justified, Greenpeace feels it is presumptuous to assume that the practice of new nuclear will certainly be signed off in the near future.


5.4 The IPC has been instructed not to consider whether the aims of the EU Directive have been or will be implemented (see NNPS 4.8.12).


6. Generic Design Assessment and licensing


6.1 The Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, though not legally binding, is an overarching safety assessment of the EPR and AP1000 reactors designed to avoid many of the pitfalls of past reactor programmes. Yet is it likely it will not deliver the outcome the Government hopes.[9]


6.2 The UK nuclear industry has an appalling track record of meeting schedules and budgets and any claims that vendors or potential operators make regarding bringing new capacity online on time should be treated with utmost circumspection. The Committee should carefully consider the catalogue of delays at cost overruns bedevilling the projects at both Olkiluoto-3 in Finland[10] and Flamanville-3 in France[11] as we feel they illustrate the nature of the problems we are likely to face with UK new build.


6.3 Indeed, problems are already surfacing in reports from the safety regulators. It has been reported that at the end of the GDA process in around mid-2011 there will most likely be "exclusions" and "conditions" attached to the sign off on reactor designs.[12] These issues will have to be resolved by potential builders and operators under the site-specific licensing process. Given the issues outstanding there is no guarantee either GDA or licensing will be finished to the timelines produced by government.


6.4 As an example of the problems outstanding, we refer the committee to the HSE's recently published the 3rd Stage GDA report on the EPR.[13] They concluded that "we have identified a significant number of issues with the safety features of the design." This followed the HSE taking the unprecedented step of releasing a Joint Regulatory Position Statement on the EPR with their Finnish and French counterparts. The statement said, "The issue is primarily around ensuring the adequacy of the safety systems (those used to maintain control of the plant if it goes outside normal conditions), and their independence from the control systems (those used to operate the plant under normal conditions). Independence is important because, if a safety system provides protection against the failure of a control system, then they should not fail together. The EPR design, as originally proposed by the licensees and the manufacturer, AREVA, doesn't comply with the independence principle, as there is a very high degree of complex interconnectivity between the control and safety systems. As a consequence of this, the UK nuclear safety regulator, the French nuclear regulator, and the Finnish nuclear regulator have asked the licensee and manufacturer to make improvements to the initial EPR design."[14] It is very worrying that EdF apparently do not agree with the HSE's assessment. The Senior Vice President Nuclear Engineering recently said that EdF "is 'confident we will qualify' the Siemens SPPA-T2000 control I&C system for use without modifications."[15]


6.5 The HSE GDA 3rd Stage report on the Westinghouse AP1000 was similarly scathing.[16] It concluded that "there is significant additional work to be done by Westinghouse to satisfy our questions and to make and present an adequate safety case in the majority of the technical topic areas...In some of the areas that we have already assessed we found that there was a lack of detailed claims and arguments."[17] But in spite of these major problems Westinghouse has not responded promptly to requests for further information about whether the reactor can stand up to things like earthquakes and aircraft crashes.


6.6 As the GDA findings show, new reactor designs proposed for the UK do not by any stretch of the imagination represent a "proven" technology as claimed in the nuclear NPS. The fact remains that any new reactor, be it an EPR or AP1000, will be first-of-a-kind and very much UK specific and as it stands operators are unable to prove that the designs meet basic reactor safety standards.


6.7 The IPC's relationship to the GDA process seems fragmented. For instance, the nuclear NPS states that the IPC "does not need to consider matters that are within the remit of the nuclear regulators, although it is to liaise with them." Instead it may seek a regulatory "letter of comfort."


6.8 Given the above it is essential that the Committee fully considers also the potential impact of an accident (or malicious act) on a reactor or spent fuel store. The probability of such an event may be low, but the potential consequences so huge they have to be thoroughly scrutinised.


6.9 One example of how Governments and industry view the real impact of an accident is in the changed international liability insurance regime that covers nuclear accidents. The UK has yet to consult on, and enact, legislation to cover the increased financial liability and expanded coverage for a nuclear accident.[18] It has been reported that the insurance industry has refused to provide the cover necessary for existing and new reactors, potentially leaving the public exposed to even higher costs in the event of a major accident.[19] This matter should have been discussed in the nuclear NPS as the risk of accident applies not only to reactors, but also the spent fuel stores planned for sites.


7. Climate Change: Sea level rise, storm surge & flooding


7.1 All of the sites earmarked for new nuclear development in the NPS are in coastal areas, mainly because of the significant volume of water reactors need for cooling. However, the UK's coastal zone is, in many cases, a dynamic and shifting environment. Changes in coastal geomorphology may well become more significant in the future because one of the predicted outcomes of anthropogenic climate change is an increase in global sea levels. This in turn could have a significant detrimental impact on nuclear power stations sited in coastal regions.


7.2 Whilst the government claims it has closely assessed the potential impact of sea level rise on possible sites for new nuclear, Greenpeace would like to draw the Committee's attention to research carried out for us by the Middlesex Flood Hazard Research Centre.[20] This found that "it is hard to escape the conclusion that the most sensible approach would be to reject all nuclear new-build within the dynamic coastal environment."[21]


7.3 New research has suggested that loss of ice from the West Antarctic ice sheet could "contribute to a projected total sea level rise of up to 1.4 metres by 2100"[22], [23] at a far quicker rate than previously estimated. This figure is could "result in large tracts of eastern England being inundated with seawater...It would also increase the chances of storm surges flooding major coastal cities, such as New York and London, even with the protection offered by the Thames Barrier."[24] The Met office recently concluded that "by 2100, storm surge heights may increase dramatically - by up to 1.7 metres in the most affected areas of Suffolk, where the Sizewell B nuclear power plant is located."[25]


7.4 Yet in the nuclear NPS the HSE admit that it has only been able to assess sea level rise based on modelling and predictions for 100 years - even though one of the plans for spent fuel is to keep it on site for possibly up to 160 years.


8. Radioactive waste management


8.1 It is claimed in the nuclear NPS that arrangements to deal with wastes "will exist." The simple fact is that there is nowhere on Earth to put this waste - there is no environmentally acceptable and proven 'solution' for the disposal of high level radioactive wastes and spent fuel. Such disingenuous and misleading statements mark a return to the days when real decisions on nuclear waste were habitually put off, leaving future generations to deal with the problem. The matter, for example, of where and for how long spent fuel might be stored and conditioned should have been fully detailed in the NPS so that local communities (at reactor sites and the potential host community for a national geological repository) could consider the implications of the various options industry and government agencies are considering. This is essential because for as the nuclear NPS states the IPC will not be allowed to consider spent fuel and waste storage: "having considered this issue, the Government is satisfied that effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from new nuclear power stations. As a result the IPC need not consider this question."2 It is unacceptable that both the principle and the practicalities of spent fuel management will not be discussed and all debate foreclosed by the IPC.


8.2 There are clearly differences in the approaches of the reactor vendors on the issue of spent fuel encapsulation. These are highlighted in a presentation from the Environment Agency[26] and in HSE reports on the two reactor designs. On the EPR the HSE notes: "EDF and AREVA still need to show that the encapsulation of spent nuclear fuel for disposal is ALARP and that the environmental impacts are acceptable. I have raised a TQ requesting EDF and AREVA to provide this information."[27] On Westinghouse's AP1000 the HSE notes: "In the absence of any other firm agreement it must at this stage be assumed that any encapsulation will be performed at the reactor site and I have raised TQ-AP1000-329 (Ref. 10) requesting information on how the fuel will be encapsulated. A response is outstanding, but when received it will need to be considered with the 'disposability' case."[28]


8.3 Westinghouse and Areva are already openly challenging the government's assumptions on the proposal that spent fuel would be stored for 100 years prior to disposal.[29] Westinghouse has written to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate stating: "[We have] concerns over the length of time that high burnup spent fuel would have to remain on site before it could be disposed in the repository design currently envisaged for the UK. Reliable, high burnup fuel is economically and environmentally beneficial, yet the projected designs of the spent fuel encapsulation containers, combined with those of the repository cells are such that they cannot accommodate such fuel without a cooling period so long that it would make the repository unavailable for some of the spent fuel."[30]


8.4 There is complete uncertainty as to exactly how spent fuel may be dealt with from new nuclear reactors. Possibilities include:


l Spent fuel is to be kept on-site at reactors [31], [32], 2

Pending a period of on-site storage it could remain on-site or be moved to a regional or central store.[33]

Spent fuel may be stored for only 5 years (pending possible removal to a central storage facility) or 10 years,[34], [35] but possibly up to 50 years, [36] 100[37] or 160 years (on or off-site).[38]

Spent fuel will be encapsulated on site[39] or at a central site.

Stores may or may not need to be replaced.[40] Stores may be above ground or underground. [41]

Title and liability stays with the operator until it leaves the site or, if no geological disposal facility is built, the government / Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) take title and liability.[42] Title and liability may pass to the NDA for encapsulation whether there is a repository or not.

There may be one or two geological disposal facilities depending on the timing of availability of a repository (i.e. how long it is kept open) and also the amount of wastes produced.[43]


8.5 Whether the industry shares encapsulation costs with the NDA is an issue which should be examined in case it constitutes an indirect subsidy (depending on how costs for encapsulation facilities are allocated). In reply to an FOI request the NDA stated that: "The operator of a new build power plant will be responsible for the cost of managing their waste pending disposal, which includes the cost of packaging spent fuel (SF). This does not necessarily mean that the operators will package the SF themselves. They may do so, or they may contract with a 3rd party to encapsulate their SF. In their Funded Decommissioning Programme (FDP) the operator must set out the steps they propose to take to manage their waste and have this plan approved by Secretary of State. These plans will be regularly reviewed and operators can submit modifications to their plans for approval. The Government might need to undertake the necessary steps to package the SF into a disposable form. The costs of encapsulation will be a cost for which the operator will have made provision in their independent Fund and in these circumstances the amounts that operators have budgeted for these costs (set out in their FDP and agreed with the Secretary of State) would pass to the Government when title to and liability for the waste transfers, to cover the costs of performing this."


8.6 The regulations and statutory guidance on Funded Decommissioning Programmes (FDP) and the Fixed Unit Price (FUP) are not finalised and will not be until late 2010 and mid-2010 respectively, if then. The FDP and FUP is the process by which the Secretary of State will sign off on plans for site decommissioning and spent fuel storage and disposal: "The Energy Bill will require any operator of a new nuclear power station to have a Funded Decommissioning Programme, approved by the Secretary of State, in place before construction of a new nuclear power station begins and to comply with this programme thereafter"[44] (our emphasis).


8.7 The current basis for the initial fixed unit price for geological disposal is that it will be co-disposed with legacy wastes. The timing of deciding on both an FDP and FUP, and agreeing this with reactor operators appears, to conflict with that of other key processes that need to be determined before the FUP can be decided. A crucial one of these is that the IPC, local communities and local authorities, should know exactly what the waste plans are before these are set in stone though an industry-government agreement (negotiations on the FUP will be between the operators and the Government. They will not involve the public or Parliament).


8.8 A recently published timeline shows the FDP will be finalised the same time as the first site license is agreed (immediately after the GDA process ends) and when planning is granted.[45] The IPC process will supposedly have started over a year in advance of this, meaning firm plans will not be available for public scrutiny. Yet the regulators have said that the issue of exactly where spent fuel will be stored (and for how long) and be encapsulated will not be known until 2012-2013.


8.9 No assumption can be made that disposal even of legacy wastes will take place and certainly not on the timeline proposed by the NDA. This issue is fraught with difficulties. The addition of new build waste could create many more problems. The first CoRWM noted: "We believe that future Government decisions on new build should be subject to their own public assessment process, including consideration of waste, because such decisions raise different political and ethical issues when compared with the consideration of wastes which already exist. We have noted before that the prospect of a new nuclear programme might undermine support for CoRWM from some stakeholders and citizens and make it more difficult to achieve public confidence."[46]


8.10 The NDA itself has gone on record as saying: "There is no guarantee that the process will succeed in Cumbria. We need to bear in mind that the community has the right of withdrawal at any time and they do not need to justify their decision."[47]


8.11 Concerns that Cumbria may not ultimately accept a repository prompted the government to re-issue its invite to all local authorities to reconsider applying to volunteer to host a repository. In October 2009, Energy Minister Lord Hunt had to remind "local communities about the opportunity to consider hosting a geological disposal facility."[48] This is because as yet only three councils in the whole country have expressed an interest, all from Cumbria: Copeland,[49] Allerdale[50] and Cumbria County Council.[51]


8.12 Yet the NNPS proceeds on the basis that:


Any potential host community will accept all legacy wastes and all new build wastes - the inventory has yet to be even discussed in Cumbria. This view contradicts any notion of true voluntarism by a community.

That a site can be found that can accommodate all wastes - the Fixed Unit Price (based on co-disposal of legacy and new build wastes) for the first round of new reactors might set this in stone before these matters are signed off on by a community

In the interim, a repository host community might also have to accept a central store for all spent fuel and / or an encapsulation plant (although this has not been clearly expressed, which underlines the vagueness of the spent fuel management proposals).


8.13 The concerns over disposal are more than of a political and social nature. David Smythe, Professor of geophysics at Glasgow University has stated: "There is clear evidence, after the expenditure of some 400m, mostly directed to the Sellafield area, that West Cumbria possesses no suitable rocks in which to site such a repository...To choose Sellafield yet again, by way of community voluntarism, and despite the lessons that have been learned, would be wrong and possibly illegal in international law."[52] In addition, by depending on one (as yet undecided) community, there may be significant implications for the taxpayer. It has been reported that "the Treasury is resisting plans to invite councils to bid for the right to house the waste because it fears that only one council - the one that includes Sellafield in Cumbria - will apply. This lack of competition would leave it able to demand extra funding of more than 1bn."[53]


8.14 This means the government's plans could practically force Cumbria not only take all radioactive wastes, but possibly also take a long-term store for a new build spent fuel and an encapsulation plant.


8.15 Yet in all of this it is vital to remember there is no environmentally acceptable and proven 'solution' for the disposal of high level radioactive wastes and spent fuel. There is no disposal site operational anywhere in the world for spent fuel. Indeed, as Areva has noted: "No spent fuel direct disposal facility is currently available in the world."[54] Government assertions that a solution exists are therefore deeply misleading. The most advanced site, Yucca Mountain in the USA, has effectively been abandoned: "Yucca Mountain has been placed in what the Department of Energy calls "cold standby." Congress cut almost $100 million from its $386 million budget this year, forcing DOE to lay off 500 of its 1,400 workers. The new Obama administration budget proposes to stop funding altogether while a "blue ribbon" panel explores other alternatives for nuclear waste disposal."[55] It is entirely misleading for government to point to other countries' plans for possible waste disposal as a basis for allowing the nuclear industry to create more highly radioactive wastes.


8.16 The NNPS should be able provide clear information so that the IPC can answer all of the following questions:


Is the operator of a new reactor currently in a position to say publicly exactly what its agreed plan to deal with spent fuel from any potential new reactors on site is? If so, what are these plans?

Post-cooling, will spent fuel be put into wet- or dry-storage?

Will storage be sub-surface or at surface level?

Exactly how long will spent fuel be stored on site for?

How will spent fuel be conditioned? Where?

How will spent fuel be encapsulated? Where?

When will title and liability of the operator's spent fuel arisings pass to the government?

Where will final disposal of new build spent fuel arisings eventually take place? When?


8.17 Greenpeace strongly recommends that the Committee read a recent article by Professor Gordon MacKerron, former Chair of CoRWM, on the issue of waste disposal and the nuclear NPS. It is attached in Appendix 1 of this submission.


9. Non-nuclear issues


9.1 It is clear from current investment forecasts that gas will remain a fundamental part of the UK energy mix for at least the next decade, whichever transition pathway is ultimately pursued. Given this fact, Greenpeace believes there is insufficient detail within the existing NPS regarding the pathway to bring about the decarbonisation of UK gas use, particularly in gas-fired power stations. There is no equivalent to the coal CCS demonstration programme announced last year by the government, despite the fact gas is and will remain a more significant source of the UK's primary energy consumption than coal. Without the inclusion of the recommendation by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce emissions from the electricity sector by 2030, The NPS fails to provide sufficient certainty regarding the future CCS requirements for gas to either utilities looking to construct new gas capacity or to those concerned about the carbon implications of new gas capacity. The current requirement of Carbon Capture Readiness outlined in the NPS is largely a restatement of the existing conditions contained within section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, and adds little to outlining the pathway from readiness to deployment, which remains a significant gap in the government's energy and climate change policy.


10. Recommendations


The Committee asks the reactor vendor companies and potential new build operators to provide detailed plans on spent fuel during storage and encapsulation.

The Committee should ask the HSE and Environment Agency EA for their views on these plans.

That the timelines on the local authority / IPC planning processes, the FDP / Fixed Unit Price processes and licensing run sequentially so that discussions and decisions take place in a progressive rather than conflicting manner.

That the Committee recommends extending further the time for the consultation, particularly given that none of the NPSs will be designated before the expected general election.

The NPS should contain a map and timeline for all energy infrastructure projects (plant, transmission etc), showing what order the government believe they have to come on-line to meet the government's stated objectives.



Appendix 1


A key nuclear question that government shrugs off as a waste of time

Gordon MacKerron, Parliamentary Brief, 7th January 2010


The British government is now firmly committed to helping the private sector build several new nuclear power stations. It has issued a 'Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation' and given precise instructions to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) on the issues it should consider when examining prospects for named potential sites. These instructions are lengthy and detailed - including questions such as amenity, cultural heritage and landscape value - but rather unlikely to cause any major upset, especially as the great bulk of named sites already have nuclear histories.


But there is one conspicuous absence from the list of IPC responsibilities. Government has specifically told the IPC that it 'need not consider' the question of whether or not 'effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from new nuclear power stations' as it is 'satisfied that effective arrangements will exist'.


This sits slightly oddly with the fact that government is also consulting on the same question. However, the rather definite instruction to the IPC suggests that government is somewhat unlikely to change its 'preliminary view' (this subtly different language being employed in the consultation section of the multiple documentation) that satisfactory waste arrangements will exist.


In another subtle linguistic shift, government, which previously talked of whether satisfactory arrangements 'exist or will exist' now, with welcome attention to reality, only uses the future tense.


So how reasonable is it to suppose that satisfactory waste management arrangements will exist, with the corollary that waste will not prove to be an issue as we move towards specific nuclear investment proposals?


There are two questions to consider: national policy towards legacy waste and new build waste, and some important site-specific considerations.


National issues


The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in 2006 recommended that legacy waste - waste to which the UK is already committed as a result of past decisions - should best be disposed, eventually, in a geological repository.


CoRWM also made clear that while technical issues surrounding waste from new-build would be similar to those affecting the legacy, the political, social and ethical questions would be different. Specifically, while there was a need only to find 'least-worst' solutions for legacy waste the calculus is different for new-build, where choice exists. The choice could be to opt for non-nuclear technologies if political social or ethical considerations - in all of which waste is deeply implicated - pointed that way.


Government readily accepted the legacy waste recommendation. But all subsequent official discussion about new-build waste has talked only of the technical similarities between managing legacy and new-build waste, and has ignored the wider political questions. Ignoring the CoRWM distinction between the two waste categories, government has insisted that geological disposal will be a satisfactory end-point for new-build waste.


While an earlier white paper did acknowledge that ethical argument might play a role, it said that ethical considerations 'did not rule out' new nuclear power - government has never discussed the ethical issues at all. There is still a need for debate about the deliberate decision to create more waste in much wider terms than the technical - this debate would not necessarily preclude new nuclear construction, but it is important that arguments on both sides of the issue are publicly aired and resolved.


As for the issue of whether satisfactory waste arrangements 'will exist', a functioning geological repository is still a very long way off. Expressions of interest in hosting a repository have come from the Sellafield area but the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the responsible agency, believes that the earliest a repository is likely to be available is 2040.


Asking people in the current consultation whether or not they believe that satisfactory waste arrangements will exist is therefore asking for a rather highly developed capacity to forecast the long-term future. The only credible answer is that no-one really has any idea.


Local issues


In the probable (but regrettable) absence of the wider national and essentially political debate about the waste-related issues surrounding new-build, waste issues will in practice be aired at local planning inquiries.


Through the National Policy Statement process and its instructions to the IPC, government expects that the local planning inquiries into individual proposals for new build will deal in purely local, site-related issues. This may be a vain hope: in the late 1980s the Hinkley Point public inquiry into a (never built) reactor was expressly charged with dealing only in local issues and ended up taking just as long - over two years - as the earlier Sizewell inquiry, which had been supposed to resolve the national level issues once and for all.


But even if future inquiries do succeed in covering only the local issues, waste has now squarely become local. Operators of future nuclear stations are being required to develop long-term on-site storage for spent fuel - over 99 per cent of the radioactivity produced by reactors. This is in contrast to the past practice at virtually all nuclear sites, where spent fuel was always shipped to Sellafield for reprocessing after a short cooling period. But government assumes (correctly) that in future private sector operators will find reprocessing uneconomic and in the absence of any other national facilities for higher-activity waste, spent fuel will need to be stored on-site. The surprise to many people is the length of the period over which this storage will be needed at local sites - 160 years or thereabouts.


Why is this so elongated a time-scale? The logic has two parts.


First there is timeline that starts with a repository opening by 2040, disposing of legacy intermediate-level waste till 2075. Then legacy high-level waste will go in until 2130 and only then would new-build spent fuel start to be disposed.


Second there is the expectation that fuel in future would have a higher 'burn-up' of the fissile uranium, making the fuel much hotter in radioactivity terms than current fuel, and necessitating a longer cooling period on site before it can be treated for disposal. So even if a repository did become available for new-build waste earlier than currently expected, disposal would be many decades into the future.


So, partly because of the history of poor past management of waste in the UK, new-build wastes will have to be stored on site for around 160 years into the future, and maybe longer - given the lack of certainty that a centralised repository will be built.


This could be a very large issue for local planning inquiries. Local residents will now be asked not only to accept a new reactor, they will also be asked to accept that they will become host to a very long-term radioactive waste storage site.


This is a radically new situation. Even at Sizewell B, the one place currently storing spent fuel on site, there was an expectation that sooner or later spent fuel would go to Sellafield. No such expectation will exist for future sites. The waste issue, apparently resolved by government's instruction to the IPC and its conflation of legacy waste with new-build waste, may yet prove to be the most serious problem to resolve before new reactors can be built.


January 2010















[15] Platt's Nuclear News Flashes 3rd December 3, 2009












[27] (Para. 85)

[28] (Para. 40)



[31] (Para. 12.16)

[32] (Para. F.31)

[33] (Para. F.36)

[34] (Para. 2.13)

[35] (Para. 5.43)

[36] Email from NDA to Greenpeace, 9th January 2008.

[37] (Para. 4.2.42)

[38] (Para. 3.8.17)


[40] (page 46)

[41] (Para. F.30)

[42] (Para. 2.15)



[45] Mark Higson, chief executive, office for nuclear development, DECC, Presentation to Westminster Energy and Transport Forum, 12th Nov 2009