Draft National Policy statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure Contents

3New nuclear build

The Government’s policy on managing waste from new nuclear

24.In 2008, the then government published a White Paper on nuclear energy in which it established that it was “technically possible” and “the right approach” to dispose of waste from new nuclear build using geological disposal.44This policy was then adopted by the following government in 2011 in the National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6).45 As a result, this NPS applies to a GDI which, if built, would store both legacy waste and waste from new nuclear.46

25.The focus of this inquiry is not on the Government’s new nuclear policy. In this report we will not be taking a view on whether there should be a new build programme or not. Given the award of a development consent for Hinkley Point C47 and talks between the Government and Hitachi regarding a proposed plant at Wylfa Newydd,48 we looked at the draft NPS assuming that the GDI, if built, would indeed eventually host high activity waste from 16 to 18 gigawatt electrical of new nuclear power, in addition to the 764,000 cubic metres of legacy waste.49 The Government currently estimates that wastes and materials from new nuclear will constitute roughly 10% of the total volume of waste stored in the GDI although this is subject to change in the future.50

The view from NGOs

26.We received evidence from the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group which strongly argued against including waste from new nuclear build into any potential GDI.51 Their position is that:

[ … I]t would be perverse to compound the problem of finding and developing a site for a GDF by a new build programme that will result in vastly increased radioactivity and an unknowable volume of spent fuel and other highly radioactive wastes which will have to be stored indefinitely at vulnerable sites scattered around our coasts. A new-build programme would create an unmanageable and intolerable burden on communities into the far future.52

This point was also made by the Chair of Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, Professor Andrew Blowers, when he gave evidence to our committee on 10 July 2018.53

27.Professor Blowers also told us that he and other NGOs participating in the NGO Forum54 felt that the Government had cherry-picked CoRWM’s recommendations regarding geological disposal in order to justify its new nuclear build programme.55 In the view of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, a new nuclear build programme is unnecessary and an alternative policy to deal with intergenerational waste from existing and future nuclear would be surface storage.56

28.The draft NPS is focused on geological disposal and does not include alternatives as that is the Government’s chosen approach to manage higher activity radioactive waste. CoRWM maintains that “There are no obvious alternative solutions coming down the road that we are aware of.”57 We note the view from the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group that “the main priority must be safe management of the existing legacy with the search for a suitable site for a GDF a less pressing concern”.58 However, in our view, the two should not be mutually exclusive. A long-term solution to high activity waste has been delayed for long enough by successive governments and is separate from the issue of responsible management of existing waste. The latter is not within the scope of this inquiry and is regularly assessed by the National Audit Office59 and the Public Accounts Committee.60

29.Successive governments have for too long left it for future generations to find a solution to dispose safely of higher activity radioactive waste. It is time for a decision. Regardless of whether the Government should have embarked upon a new nuclear build programme and regardless of whether geological disposal is the best approach to dispose of waste, any long-term waste management strategy should include waste from new nuclear.

30.Both the developer and CoRWM told us that the NPS could be strengthened if a stronger case was made for geological disposal as the best available approach against alternatives.61 NuLeaf, despite being in favour of geological disposal, also questioned why alternatives had not been appraised in the NPS.62 We understand that the Government thought it would be enough to rely on references to CoRWM’s recommendations in the NPS. However, we think that advice from both RWM and CoRWM that further justification for geological disposal is needed in the NPS should be taken seriously. We therefore recommend that the Government work with CoRWM and RWM to strengthen the justification for geological disposal in the NPS.

The Inventory

31.One of the key issues around the inclusion of waste from new nuclear in the GDI is the uncertainty regarding the total volume of waste new nuclear may generate and the difficulties of asking a community to consent to an uncertain volume of waste. Stephen Tromans, Member of CoRWM, told us about some of CoRWM’s concerns on this matter:

That was certainly CoRWM’s view, that if new nuclear was going to come forward there needed to be a fully and proper ethical debate as to what was going to happen to the waste from the new build. Unfortunately, that debate has not happened perhaps as CoRWM would like. What has happened is essentially a decision in favour of new build, taking on trust the fact that there will be a solution. The critical thing, as far as Working With Communities is concerned, is complete transparency and understanding on the part of the community as to what is going to go into the GDF they will be hosting. Their views may be very different as to dealing with and accepting legacy waste than new-build waste.63

He then added: “The inventory that the communities are being asked to take as part of the Working With Communities process has to be absolutely crystal clear in that regard.”64

32.The uncertainty of the inventory and the difficulties this creates when it comes to asking a community to volunteer to host a facility whose size and content may vary were raised in several submissions. Professor Andrew Blowers said there was uncertainty regarding the possible inclusion of plutonium and spent fuel in the final Inventory.65 Copeland Borough Council and NuLeaf both told us that the likely impact of uncertainty regarding the final Inventory should be made clearer to potential host communities.66 The Lake District National Park Authority stressed that the infrastructure requirements for geological disposal would remain uncertain until there is a final inventory.67

33.We note that the draft NPS addresses some of this uncertainty in section 2.3 ‘Waste to be managed’.68 It provides a list, compiled by RWM and updated every three years, of the waste that the Government and the developer expect to be stored in the GDI, should it be built. We understand that the nature of an inventory means that it will continue to evolve in the run-up to identifying a site for the GDI as more power stations come online and decommissioning work progresses. Following our visit to Sellafield Ltd, we also understand the complex challenges faced by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in trying to deal with decades of poor management of higher activity radioactive nuclear waste, some of which still needs to be identified and quantified. The developer and the Government have provided us with an estimate of the additional volume of waste and costs that the new nuclear build programme as currently planned would add to the inventory, and we expect this would also have an impact on site capacity.69 RWM acknowledged that if the new nuclear build programme grew beyond the 16 to 18 gigawatt electrical currently planned, “you would probably have to find another site”, but reiterated that the Government’s preference would be for a single site to cover both legacy and future waste.70

34.Given the changing nature of inventories and the timescales at stake, we reject the idea that the total the UK Derived Inventory should be finalised before proceeding with the final NPS. However, we agree with the evidence that before communities are asked to volunteer to host the GDI, it should be made absolutely clear to them that the inventory is uncertain and likely to change. As currently drafted, the NPS does not make that point clearly enough, especially to lay readers. Although the NPS is primarily aimed at the Planning Inspectorate and the developer, it should also be helpful to communities that are thinking of volunteering to host the GDI. We recommend that the Government clarifies in the NPS the level of uncertainty regarding the inventory and explains to prospective host communities how this will affect their right to reject the GDI at any point during the siting process.

35.We acknowledge Professor Blowers’s view that volume of waste and level of radioactivity are two different things. He told us that “for Hinkley Point C alone, [ … ] by the year 2200 the amount of waste, in terms of radioactivity, would be 80% of the existing legacy waste.”71 Evidence we received from Professor Neil Hyatt, Chair in Radioactive Waste Management at the University of Sheffield, likewise stressed that “the underground footprint” of the waste to store in the GDI is determined by “the volume of heat generating spent nuclear fuel and high level waste”, and is a “key driver of the environmental impacts identified in the Appraisal of Sustainability Report”.72 He argued that “the impact of the radioactive waste inventory on the infrastructure requirements and impact assessment of the geological disposal facility are not well considered in the Draft NPS”. He suggested that

the draft NPS [ … ] should consider the extent to which bounding scenario assumptions on the waste inventory, particularly concerning spent MOX fuel and spent fuel from new build, affect the infrastructure requirement and impact assessment.73

36.Moreover, we were told by witnesses that one of the key reasons for the failure to find a site for geological in the past was that the decision-making process was too “rigid” and “required local authorities to make decisions before sufficient information had been provided on which to base those decisions.”74 We are keen to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated. Asking communities to give their consent before they have enough information about the Inventory could be one of those pitfalls.

37.Volume of waste and underground footprint are two separate but crucial issues which will affect the type of facility required. It is essential that communities understand what responsibility—both in terms of volume of waste and level of radioactivity—they would be signing up for by hosting the GDI. For transparency purposes, the Government should clarify in the NPS the level of radioactivity that, to its knowledge, waste from the 16 to 18 gigawatt electrical new nuclear build programme would add to the total volume of radioactivity in the GDI and how that will impact the infrastructure requirements of the facility. The Government should also provide details in the NPS on the level of radioactivity from new nuclear build waste as a proportion of the total level of radioactivity in the GDI.

44 Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Nuclear White Paper 2008: ‘Meeting the Energy Challenge’, Cm 7296 , 2008, p.99

46 Same as above, para 2.1.9. & 2.1.10.

47 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, News story: Hinkley Point C contract signed, 29 September 2016

48 HC Deb, 4 June 2018, col 76 [Commons ministerial statement]

49 Letter from Richard Harrington MP to the Chair, regarding geological disposal infrastructure, dated 13 July 2018

50 Same as above

52 GDI0009, pp 1–2

53 Q78 [Prof Andrew Blowers]

54 A panel of NGOs which meets regularly with relevant regulators and officials to discuss their views on geological disposal.

55 Q78 [Prof Andrew Blowers]

56 Q80 [Pro Andrew Blowers]

57 Q51 [Stephen Tromans QC]

58 GDI0009, p 1

59 See for instance the latest National Audit Office report The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: progress with reducing risk at Sellafield, 20 June 2018

60 See for instance the latest Public Accounts Committee inquiry on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

61 Q41 [Bruce McKirdy] & Q42 [Stephen Tromans QC]

62 Qq1, 3 [Philip Matthews]

63 Q55 [Stephen Tromans QC]

64 Same as above.

65 GDI0009, p4

66 GDI0008, para 3.23 and GDI0005, para 32

67 GDI0003, para 3.4

69 Q60 [Bruce McKirdy]; Letter from Richard Harrington MP to the Chair, regarding geological disposal infrastructure, dated 13 July 2018

70 Q60 [Bruce McKirdy]

71 Q92 [Prof Andrew Blowers]

72 GDI0013, para 3

73 Same as above.

74 Q40 [Bruce McKirdy] but also Q17 [Philip Matthews] and Q100 [Stephen Speed]

Published: 31 July 2018