Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Seventh Report


92.  Witnesses were clear that action must be taken now to implement a long-term solution to the management of Member States' high level radioactive waste. The British Nuclear Energy Society and the Institution of Nuclear Engineers told us that in order to "assure public acceptance for continued or even expanded deployment of fission power stations, the issue of safe disposal of long-lived radioactive waste has to be vigorously addressed" (p 84). Mr Chris Murray, Chief Executive of Nirex, said there is a palpable public wish to address the nuclear waste problem:

"If you listen to the radio, to the media, there is a feeling that the waste has to be dealt with … whether or not they build new power stations, the waste should be dealt with" (Q 113).

93.  The political difficulty for a government of garnering support for a waste management policy is the main obstacle to the EU taking action on its waste legacy. Suitable waste solutions could be derived—the reason they have not been implemented is because of the lack of political and public acceptance of disposal sites (Dr Ion, President of the British Nuclear Energy Society, Q 352). Mr Hans Riotte, Head of Radiation Protection and Radioactive Waste Management at the OECD NEA, told us that "in principle there is wide international agreement on how to deal with [high level waste and spent nuclear fuel] … The real challenges are societal challenges" (QQ 670-671). These "governance and societal issues" were described as "the near-final obstacle to public acceptance" of waste disposal programmes (British Nuclear Energy Society and Institution of Nuclear Engineers, p 84).

94.  It is of the highest importance that Member States take action to deal with the long-term management of radioactive waste and do not simply accumulate study after study. Citizens need reassurance that high level radioactive waste can be safely managed in the long-term. It is difficult to perceive how nuclear use in the EU could continue or expand if long-term methods are not seen to be available to manage the waste produced.

The United Kingdom—from storage to disposal

95.  The United Kingdom Government have faced much criticism for not having a disposal policy in place for intermediate and high level radioactive waste even though a large waste legacy has amassed since the United Kingdom began operating nuclear installations in the 1950s[15]. 470,000 cubic metres of waste are stored at temporary facilities at more than 500 locations around the United Kingdom. The former Environment Minister, Mr Morley MP, admitted that there had been "an enormous delay in deciding a long term strategy for nuclear waste" (Q 388). More needs to be done to store the waste securely before any attempt is made to dispose of it in the long-term:

"85 per cent of the radioactive waste in this country is in a potentially mobile state—it is not passively safe—and our drive is to get that waste out of a potentially mobile and hence hazardous position into a passively safe state" (Mr Williams, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Q 434).

BOX 15
What is the difference between storage and disposal?

BOX 16
The United Kingdom's Waste Legacy

96.  The Government's Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is reviewing the options for managing high level waste. In April, CoRWM published interim recommendations which favour a strategy of interim storage of radioactive waste followed by deep geologic disposal with the option of future retrieval of the waste[16]. Coupled with Mr Williams' remarks above, this indicates that the United Kingdom approach will be better temporary storage first, deep disposal later.

BOX 17
The role of CoRWM

97.  We welcome the interim recommendations made by CoRWM towards delivering a United Kingdom strategy for the long-term disposal of high level radioactive waste. Such a strategy is long overdue. It will be essential for the Government to build upon CoRWM's final recommendations as a matter of urgency, and to ensure public views feed into the policy decision taken.

Speeding up EU action—aiding the decision making

98.  The process to research, locate, build and begin operating a deep geologic waste disposal site will be a long one. A United Kingdom disposal site may not be operational for decades because of the complex technicalities of construction and the lead time required for licensing and planning. Mr Murray, Chief Executive of Nirex, informed us that even if public communities were to volunteer today for a disposal site to be built in their locality, a disposal site would not open until 2025. Without the aid of volunteering, it would be unlikely that a site could be built and opened before 2040 (Q 108).

Timeline for implementation of long-term waste management policy

Source: British Nuclear Fuels

99.  Witnesses were clear that, although the EU could play a role in hastening Member States towards deciding on a long-term management policy, action on the safe packaging of waste in anticipation of long-term disposal was a much more urgent issue. Mr Murray of Nirex told us that, in the United Kingdom, "what should happen, and the thing that does give concern, is that the waste should be packaged before [2025] and that is independent of finding a site" (Q 111). Dr Ion, President of the British Nuclear Energy Society, also saw a need for the United Kingdom to take further action on the waste being produced by the current generation of nuclear reactors, independently of the decision regarding the long-term waste legacy:

"… if [EU legislation] were to lead to a faster journey to an acceptable conclusion in the UK for long term rad[ioactive] waste disposition, then possibly [it might help], but timing-wise I am not sure it would make a big difference because … the waste associated with new build is small volumetrically compared with what we have to deal with anyway and so I would possibly argue that you can put a gap between the two decisions. One you have to deal with anyway; the other can take place without the final decision for rad[ioactive] waste in place" (Q 373).

BOX 18
How much waste would new nuclear power stations create?

100.  Friends of the Earth advocated EU legislation that would require Member States to store radioactive waste in a passively safe form, without necessarily hastening implementation of a particular waste solution (QQ 168-9). Dr Ion stated similarly that the EU could encourage the journey towards delivering a long-term solution without being prescriptive as to what the solution might be (Q 346). Mr Riotte of the OECD NEA advocated integration between storage and final disposal because "many countries feel they need to make this decision in a stepwise way which can be revised at every specific step. If you look at the technical response to this, most of today's concepts are not straightforward disposal concepts, they are a combination of storage and disposal" (Q 671).

101.  We believe the EU could play a highly beneficial role in actively encouraging Member States to prepare for long-term management by ensuring their radioactive waste is packaged in a passive form. This would support Member States in their quest towards implementing a long-term waste management policy, and would foster confidence in EU citizens that the management of radioactive waste is taken seriously by Member States.

Finland—en route to delivering a solution


102.  We were surprised that Finland opposed the nuclear package. Given that its work on radioactive waste disposal is recognised as a "gold standard" in the EU, the argument could be made that Finland should support the waste Directive in order to ensure that its best practice spreads to other Member States. Instead, as one of the Member States most developed in setting up a permanent disposal repository at Olkiluoto, our Finnish witnesses were acutely fearful that pressure would fall upon Finland to accept waste from other Member States (Mr Huttunen, Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry, Q 214).

BOX 19
Finland—the construction at Olkiluoto

103.  The importation of waste would conflict with Finnish national law which bans the import or export of nuclear waste or spent fuel (Q 212). Thus, this legal barrier would have to be crossed before any waste could be transported from another Member State. However, the mere threat of the waste Directive opening the door to a possible revoking of national law has been enough for the Finnish government to veto the nuclear package. Securing pubic acceptance for the Olkiluoto repository has already been difficult for Finland to achieve; the possibility of being required to accept foreign waste would complicate the issue further before final decisions on the Olkiluoto waste disposal site have been taken.

104.  We note the Finnish concerns that implementation of a waste Directive could pave the way towards pressure to be exerted upon Member States to accept radioactive waste from other Member States. These are valid concerns and we recommend that the Commission and Council of Ministers act upon them. Due thought should be given to the explicit ruling out in any future waste legislation of the possibility of Member States being required to receive foreign radioactive waste. The option for implementation of a regional repository (a repository shared by Member States) should remain open but must be an issue upon which Member States rather than the Community decides.


105.  The need for flexibility and national sensitivity to the implementation of a long-term waste management policy reverberated throughout the evidence we received. Finland and Sweden were highlighted as "absolute exemplary communities and societies" which demonstrated how successful "home-grown" waste management policies could be nurtured and implemented (Q 123). In Finland, local communities have been involved in the planning and siting of geologic repositories from such an early stage that they have competed to have repositories situated in their locality.

106.  Finland's success has been built on keeping the public informed of every step in the decision-making process, and because the public has confidence that the consultation process will lead to effective results (Mr Varjoranta, Director of the Finnish agency responsible for nuclear safety radioactive waste management, Q 191). The Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry told us that it is especially important that "decisions on final disposal of nuclear waste should be taken at a level that is as close as possible" to citizens due to reasons of public acceptance (p 58). All of our witnesses were clear that "public engagement and involvement in the decision-making process is a very important part" of making any waste policy acceptable, and it is a process which takes time (Mr Stan Gordelier, Head of Nuclear Development at the OECD, Q 711; see also Dr Bayliss, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Q 57; and Dr Ion, President of the British Nuclear Energy Society, Q 353).

107.  We are impressed by the success of Finland and Sweden which have incorporated local consultation into every step of their decision making processes regarding the disposal of high level radioactive waste. The Finnish and Swedish systems are prime examples of how working with the public can generate interest and support in the implementation of waste policies. We are pleased that CoRWM in its interim recommendations to the Government on the way forward for disposal of the United Kingdom's radioactive waste legacy has emphasised the key role of building public understanding through consultation and volunteerism.

15   The development of the Government's radioactive waste management policy has been examined in three reports of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee: Management of Nuclear Waste, 3rd Report, Session 1998-99 (HL Paper 41); Managing Radioactive Waste: the Government's consultation, 1st Report, Session 2001-02 (HL Paper 36); and Radioactive Waste Management, 5th Report, Session 2003-04 (HL Paper 200). Back

16   See Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006