The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has submitted its comments of the Radioactive Waste Management’s (RWM) ‘Site Evaluation’ criteria. These criteria are supposed to assist RWM in the process to deliver a suitable site for a deep underground radioactive waste repository should prospective volunteer communities / Councils interested come forward. (1)
The RWM consultation has been mired in two parallel processes that have led to considerable concern and even anger expressed by a number of Councils, particularly in Wales and Northern Ireland – these include a letter from the UK Government that has gone to all Councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland seeking ‘expressions of interest’ in taking part in a process to find a volunteer location for a deep underground repository; and RWM placing downloadable films on their website considering the regions of the three nations and generic geology that may be suitable for such a facility.
A number of Councils, such as Newry, Mourne and Down and Fermanagh and Omagh Council in Northern Ireland, and Swansea, Ceredigion and Powys County Councils in Wales, have passed resolutions expressing their opposition to such a development in their or neighbouring areas. (2)
In its response to RWM, NFLA comment that the timing of the RWM consultation was clumsy and has led to mixed messages being given to Councils and communities. NFLA is also concerned that RWM cancelled its two stakeholder events in Wales, replacing them with ‘webinars’, and held no stakeholder events at all in Northern Ireland, despite the Northern Ireland Executive supporting the principle of ‘geological disposal’ of radioactive waste. It could be argued that English Councils and communities have now received greater background information than in Wales and Northern Ireland as a result.
In its response to the specific questions of the RWM consultation, NFLA comments include:
- The issues of the transportation of nuclear waste and concerns over nuclear security should be added as factors for consideration in evaluating sites.
- Geology also remains a critical factor that should be considered in its totality. It has dominated previous debates which have tried to find a suitable site for a deep underground repository.
- NFLA suggests the local and regional political environment needs to be considered, particularly given that the UK Government is preventing County Councils from seeking a ‘veto’ from the process, should they be duly concerned during the site evaluation process.
- A deep underground repository remains a controversial development that has potentially profound environmental impacts. NFLA, like many other groups, is keen for the concept of retrievability to remain a possibility at any approved site, should long-term environmental degradation of such a site occur, impacting on future generations.
- NFLA argues that any plans for a GDF should be guided throughout the siting process by regular reviews to determine whether geological disposal remains the optimal solution to the long-term management of the waste inventory.
- For NFLA, the building of such a complicated and controversial development remains above all an ethical question. Previous failures to develop such a site have come not just from political failure but from a misunderstanding of the ethical concerns that comes from dumping large amounts of highly radioactive waste deep underground. RWM should not just have scientific and technical staff considering this development, but should bring in social scientists to look at such matters.
NFLA remain sceptical that a deep underground repository is the best way forward for the long-term management of radioactive waste. It broadly supports the Scottish Government’s ‘near site, near surface’ monitorable and retrievable stores policy.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Cllr David Blackburn said:
“The often angry and concerned debate put forward by a number of Councils over the UK Government’s request to express an interest to host a deep underground radioactive waste repository is symptomatic of how divisive this debate can be, and will be into the future. It concerns NFLA that RWM may be replicating some of the mistakes made in the past where confusion often led quickly to polarised views on the matter. NFLA call on RWM to seriously consider the points it has made on site evaluation. It needs to consider as well that such a facility remains a controversial and complicated development. These past few months have shown how quickly and how extensive opposition to such a development can grow. NFLA call on a national debate on 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. Without such a debate being had, the chances of policy success remains limited.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(2) NFLA Media Release, March 7th 2019