The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today its analysis and a model response for its local authorities to respond to consultations seeking to advance the potential future development of a deep underground radioactive waste repository. (1) NFLA is concerned communities could be locked in to a long process which is easy to volunteer for but difficult to extricate from. It also remains sceptical that a deep underground repository is the best way forward for the management of high and intermediate level radioactive waste.
The UK and the Welsh Governments, who currently both support new nuclear power stations, have issued consultations outlining the potential policy process should a ‘community’ profess an interest in hosting what they call a geological disposal facility (GDF), or deep underground waste repository. The UK Government has also issued an additional consultation on the detail of a proposed National Policy Statement for such a development.
Government has sought local support for such a development for over three decades now, and has consistently seen attempts to find a willing host community thwarted over concerns around suitable geology, the type of waste to be stored and the longevity of such a development – likely to be hundreds of thousands of years.
In its analysis on the consultations from both governments, NFLA conclude:
- The focus of the UK and Welsh consultations are solely on finding a site for a geological repository. In the NFLA’s view, this is, at best, premature. Given the uncertainties surrounding the implementation of geological disposal, there needs to be a focus on the safe and secure management of wastes in robust interim stores, not just for the period awaiting the opening of a GDF, but also because of a risk of delay or failure in the repository programme.
- In the NFLA’s view the UK Government should be looking at a system more like the one proposed by the Scottish Government of ‘near site, near surface’ management of such waste.
- NFLA continues to call for a national debate about whether the objective is to look for the best available geology for the job or whether to use mediocre geology and rely more heavily on engineered barriers. The NFLA contends that such a debate should have taken place before embarking on a National Geological Screening Exercise for England, Wales & Northern Ireland.
- The proposals appear to weaken the power of county councils making it harder for them to prevent a community from agreeing to host the GDF. That is of real concern for local democracy.
- Any Community Agreement needs to be flexible enough to be able to respond to changing circumstances, but it also needs to be able to take account of issues from outwith the immediate concerns of the community in question. For instance, the problems associated with transporting waste from the other end of the country, to the lack of scientific research and evidence on processes which may impact public doses on the surface in hundreds of years’ time.
- Whilst NFLA agrees that the Community Partnership process needs to be properly funded, it fears that communities which do not necessarily host the best geology will volunteer out of economic desperation.
- The NFLA has serious concerns that communities which volunteer are potentially trapped within the process for up to 20 years. For all the talk of volunteers having a continuous right of withdrawal, the document paints a much darker picture of coercion and a supposed partnership where the real power rests with one party.
- It appears that this process has been designed to be easy to enter and extremely difficult to leave. Communities may need to exercise extreme caution before volunteering.
- Local authorities will also be concerned about the idea that anyone can express an interest in initiating a search for a suitable site for a GDF. It would be unfortunate if the Ministry of Defence or Forestry Commission was able to drag a community into a 20 year process against its better judgement.
- The Government is basing the “need” for a GDF on the fact that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended geological disposal as the best available option. But CoRWM also made other important recommendations which have been ignored.
- Any assessment of large infrastructure projects should look at alternative options. The waste inventory in 2200 after a 16GW programme of new nuclear reactors would be around 27.3 million TBq – almost a six-fold increase. Potential host local authorities have no way of knowing how much waste they are volunteering to accept.
The NFLA response also outlines in considerable detailed concerns over the geological screening exercise and a recent Swedish court case which questions the long-term suitability of proposed copper canisters that would be used to store high and intermediate level waste. It encourages its member authorities to support its model response.
NFLA SC Vice Chair, Councillor David Blackburn comments:
“This detailed NFLA response outlines our consistent concern on whether a deep underground waste repository is the only acceptable option for the management of high and intermediate level radioactive waste. NFLA outlines a whole raft of concerns with the plans to lock in local authorities, or other suitable communities, into a process that will be easy to join but very difficult to leave. Not allowing County Councils a final say in hosting such a repository is of real concern in what is supposed to be a development that is supposed to garner widespread local support. NFLA encourage all local authorities, whether they support or oppose nuclear power, to be very careful in taking part in this process as it currently stands. Yet again, government has failed to adequately listen to the sensible alternatives that groups like NFLA have put forward for many years.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors: