Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report



8.1 Our conclusions and recommendations are given at various points in this report, primarily in the final sections of Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7. In this chapter we draw these together in summary form.


8.2 From our survey of the present situation and its history (Chapter 2) it is evident that the major problem of nuclear waste management in the United Kingdom is the legacy from the past. This and the wastes that are bound to arise when present nuclear facilities are decommissioned dwarf any current projections of wastes from future civil and defence nuclear programmes. The legacy has to be dealt with, whether there are future programmes or not.

8.3 Our technical analysis showed that the current United Kingdom strategy for management of long-lived wastes is fragmented: the approach for existing intermediate level waste differs from that for high level waste and the approach planned for some future arisings of intermediate level waste is different again. There are materials which are held pending decisions on whether they are to be re-used or declared wastes. This is unsatisfactory: to proceed with the siting and design of long-term stores or repositories it is essential to know what wastes will be placed in them. We concluded that an integrated strategy is needed for all long-lived wastes and decisions are needed soon on which materials are to be declared wastes (paras 4.47 and 4.50).

8.4 Of the many methods for the long-term management of nuclear wastes that have been suggested and studied world-wide, only two are now being advocated (see Chapter 3). We found that the majority view from the scientific and technical community is that wastes should be emplaced in deep geological repositories. The minority view, held particularly by members of environmental pressure groups, is that wastes should be stored on or near the ground surface indefinitely, while a research and development programme is conducted to find the best means to manage them in the longer term.

8.5 In our technical analysis (Chapter 4) we examined the range of courses of action which the United Kingdom could follow, from early geological disposal to indefinite storage. We have concluded that the preferred approach is phased geological disposal in which wastes are, following surface storage, emplaced in a repository in such a way that they can be monitored and retrieved. The repository would be kept open while data are accumulated, and only closed when there is sufficient confidence to do so (paras 4.48 and 4.49).

8.6 It is possible that more than one deep repository will be needed to take all our wastes. We will not know whether this is the case until decisions have been taken on materials to be declared waste and until a new site investigation and selection process is underway. Waste quantities can then be matched to site capacities. It is important that one or more deep repositories are operational in the United Kingdom within about fifty years from now. If there is no operational repository by this time there would need to be a major programme of replacement or refurbishment of surface stores, perhaps with repackaging of wastes. This would be in addition to the programme of construction of surface stores which is needed over the next two decades to hold existing wastes (paras 4.50 and 4.51).

8.7 Public acceptance of a national plan for the management of nuclear waste is essential and it has to be achieved at the local level (ie close to potential repository sites), as well as within the country as whole (Chapter 5).

8.8 Openness and transparency in decision-making are necessary in order to gain public trust, but they are not in themselves enough. Mechanisms must be used to include the public, or groups within it representing a wide spectrum of views, in decision-making (paras 5.40-5.42).

8.9 At the local level, offering compensation for blight and benefits in exchange for hosting a national disposal facility would do much to achieve acceptance (para 5.44).


8.10 We recommend that the Government should develop a fully comprehensive policy for the long-term management of all nuclear waste. The policy should have explicit endorsement by Parliament, as well as a large measure of public acceptance (para 6.53).

8.11 The policy has to be the subject of wide-ranging consultation. The Government should issue a Green Paper which states the problem, the possible solutions and the principal means for implementation of that policy, including, for deep repositories, the site selection process. The consultation on the Green Paper should involve as many sections of the public as is feasible. At the end of it the Government should publish a White Paper and report the results to Parliament. There should then be a Bill to establish the policy and the institutional framework for implementing it (para 6.54).

8.12 We recommend that a new organisation be set up to oversee the implementation of policy. This should be a "Nuclear Waste Management Commission", which is outside day-to-day government and which has authority and permanence. The workings of the Commission should be as open as possible. There would be advantages in setting up the Commission initially in a non-statutory way and giving it the task of consultation on a comprehensive policy. The Bill which establishes the policy should give the Commission powers of oversight (para 6.55).

8.13 If, as we think it should, a phased approach to geological disposal is adopted, another new organisation should be set up with the remit to design, construct, operate and eventually close the repository (or repositories), conducting R&D as necessary. The organisation should monitor the repository and should be able, if necessary to retrieve the waste. This "Radioactive Waste Disposal Company" should be a nuclear industry organisation (including the Ministry of Defence), which needs approval from the Commission for its work programme and which works in an open way (para 6.57).

8.14 When there is agreement on the national strategy a comprehensive research programme should be set out, linked to milestones in the development of facilities. The Commission should be responsible for co-ordinating all United Kingdom research on the long-term management of nuclear waste and should take over this role during the consultation period. The safety standards for repositories should be revised and expanded as research and development proceeds (paras 4.52 and 6.59).

8.15 The process of selecting a repository site (or sites, if more than one repository is needed) should be open and transparent, and should involve Parliament and Government. The Commission should oversee the Company's selection of the preferred site or sites. The Company's site choice should be debated in Parliament and examined at public inquiry. The final decision should be made by the Secretary of State (para 6.60).

8.16 The Commission should be financed by means of a segregated fund, derived from a levy on the whole nuclear industry (civil and defence). The Commission should consult those concerned about the desirability and practicability of funding repository development, operation and closure in a similar way, and make recommendations to Government (para 6.61).

8.17 When the Commission is set up some changes should be made to regulatory arrangements. The Environment Agency should be given a new statutory power over the storage of wastes on nuclear licensed sites. Efforts to bring all Ministry of Defence sites under the full civilian regulatory regime should be intensified and the Government should bring forward a timetable for achieving this objective (para 6.62).

8.18 For the present, Nirex should be maintained, but when the Commission and the Company are established its roles should be subsumed by them. When the Commission is set up RWMAC should be disbanded (para 6.58).

8.19 Small users of radioactive materials should commission a study of the options for management of the limited quantities of short-lived ILW they produce. They should then propose their preferred option to regulators and Government (para 4.53).

8.20 Plans should be made for the establishment of a new LLW disposal facility, to open before Drigg closes. The Government should also consider alternatives to landfill disposal of less active LLW and produce a national policy that is accepted by all concerned (para 4.54).

8.21 When policy consultation is complete, and if the chosen policy is phased geological disposal, this country should take a lead in discussions on international regional repositories and offer help to those countries that need, but lack the resources, to develop them (para 6.63).

8.22 We recommend that the Government should develop a clear policy for management of the United Kingdom's stock of separated plutonium. Our view is that this policy should be the maintenance of the minimum strategic stock, and the declaration of the remainder as waste (para 7.50).

8.23 The Government should re-examine the policy on waste substitution, in the light of our recommendations and the 11th report of the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee (para 7.51).

8.24 We recommend that the Government acts without delay. The programme for repository development is a long one and cannot be rushed. Delay in starting the programme entails risks and additional costs which an early start to policy development and implementation would avoid (para 6.64).

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