The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Steering Committee has submitted today its response to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) on the management of Higher Activity Waste (HAW). In a number of important areas, NFLA is critical of the updated NDA strategy. (1)
Higher Activity Waste (HAW) is a category of radioactive waste which includes High Level Waste (HLW), Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) and a small volume of Low Level Waste (LLW) that is not deemed suitable for disposal at the Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) near Drigg or the LLW facility at Dounreay.
UK government policy for the long-term management of Highly Active Waste (HAW) is to package and hold wastes in secure interim storage until they can be transferred to a deep underground radioactive waste repository, often referred to as a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF); apart from in Scotland where the policy is for long-term management in near-surface facilities. A GDF is currently expected to be available to receive some HAW from around 2040. It is not expected to be ready to start receiving High Level Waste (HLW) and Spent Fuel (SF) until 2075.
This new NDA HAW Strategy, like previous LLW Strategies, looks at management strategies through the prism of the waste hierarchy. In the NFLA view, the waste hierarchy is used as a way to justify transporting waste to other facilities and even other countries in order to carry out so-called “processing” or treatment. This results in unnecessary discharges of radioactive substances into the environment and spreading radioactive waste around in alternative ‘disposal’ facilities – all of which result in dilution and dispersal of radioactive substances throughout the environment.
In its conclusions to the submission, NFLA comment:
- The NDA’s HAW strategy appears overly-focused on reducing levels of waste to be managed.
- Some of these measures involve diverting waste to near surface disposal facilities by using a so-called ‘risk-based approach’. The NFLA believe a precautionary approach is preferable to ensure that doses of radiation to exposed members of the public are never above a certain level. As such the NDA’s approach will allow the possibility of higher doses, provided the probability of such a higher dose is assessed to be sufficiently low. NFLA believes introducing this level of flexibility is unacceptable.
- Other methods of volume reduction such as recycling, heat treatment or chemical treatment, are likely to involve increases in discharges of radioactive substances into the environment and are also unacceptable.
- Where volume reductions can be made without increased discharges to the environment or increases in doses to the workforce this is welcomed by the NFLA.
- It seems strange to NFLA that as a society we are willing to accept one part of the nuclear industry, in the NDA, looking at ways of reducing volumes of legacy nuclear waste without proper consideration of environmental principles; whilst another section of the nuclear industry is busy planning to start generating yet more nuclear waste through new nuclear power stations.
NFLA Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
The NDA’s proposed strategy for the management of higher activity radioactive waste is quite troubling to the NFLA. It appears to be dominated by ways of reducing the waste legacy through significant amounts of increased transports of waste, increased and unnecessary radioactive discharges into the environment and in spreading waste around to other facilities. I believe it is imperative for the NDA, for a change, to actually take on board the sound environmental principles advocated by the NFLA. If they did, the UK’s huge radioactive waste legacy would be managed in a much more environmentally sensitive and responsible way. I urge them to take on board our serious and well founded criticism.”
For more information contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Radioactive Waste Management Policy Briefing 64 is on the home page of the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info