The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today its submission to the Welsh Government’s consultation on how it will engage with a Welsh Council / ‘community’ that volunteers to consider hosting a deep underground radioactive waste repository. (1)
The Welsh Government has launched the consultation exercise to seek views on its support for UK Government policy for the development of a deep underground radioactive waste policy – often referred to as a ‘geological disposal facility’. Over the last 18 months, the Welsh Government has amended its higher activity waste management policy – from initially taking a neutral stance on developing a deep underground repository to now actively supporting it. This consultation also aligns with its formal support for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. (2)
In its response to the consultation, NFLA make a number of key points on Welsh policy, including:
- The Welsh Government should have reserved its position on ‘deep geological disposal’ until there is a recognition that the scientific research being carried out to demonstrate a safety case may, in fact, show that producing a robust safety case may not be possible.
- There are considerable uncertainties in making a safety case to bury nuclear waste in a deep repository. NFLA asserts that the Welsh (and the UK) Government has failed to convey that ‘geological disposal’ remains far from a proven technology.
- ‘Disposal’ implies getting rid of something, but placing waste in a deep geological facility is simply moving the waste from the surface environment to an underground environment. It does not ‘get rid of’ the waste.
- There is no ‘safe’ dose of radiation, and there are huge uncertainties involved in deciding what dose members of the public actually receive and what the health impact of those doses might be.
- Higher activity waste (HAW) arisings in Wales, once packaged, will be around half the volume of such waste arising in Scotland. A significant proportion of this waste will not arise until Final Site Clearance at the two Welsh reactor sites in 2073 and 2091 in any case. By the time the care and maintenance phase begins at Trawsfynydd in 2016 and Wylfa in 2025 all the early arisings of HAW will have been placed in interim storage, so there is no need to rush decisions and, for instance, start emplacing waste in a deep underground waste repository with inadequate geological barriers.
- The Welsh Assembly Government should investigate in detail why the UK Government’s previous ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely’ (MRWS) process failed.
- The MRWS process also failed because it did not start with a debate about whether the Government should be looking for the most suitable geology for radioactive waste disposal.
- The Welsh Government should implement the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’s recommendation that a quite separate discussion should be held on the political and ethical issues raised by creating new wastes by building new reactors.
- The Welsh Government should rather adopt the Scottish Government policy on HAW: “…that the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste should be in near-surface facilities. Facilities should be located as near to the site where the waste is produced as possible. Developers will need to demonstrate how the facilities will be monitored and how waste packages, or waste, could be retrieved.”
In responding to the consultation questions NFLA supports the ‘volunteerist’ principle and welcomes the plans for a national geological survey of England and Wales. It argues that any involvement in community engagement over a national deep underground repository should include funding all sides of the debate. NFLA also remains concerned that the Welsh and UK Government’s view is that “there is no ‘best’ or ‘most suitable’ generic type of geology” and that “engineered elements can be tailored” to meet the requirements of different geologies. In the NFLA’s view the Welsh Government should consider withdrawing its support from the current UK Government process until it is made clear that the objective is to look for the best available geology for the job rather than making use of mediocre geology and relying more heavily on engineered barriers.
NFLA Welsh Forum Co-Chair Councillor Ed Bridges said:
The NFLA’s response to this Welsh Government consultation on its higher activity waste policy reiterates its opposition to developing a deep underground repository without resolving fundamental scientific and technical questions and issues around the retrievability of waste. The fundamental issue is also around democracy, as no community should have radioactive waste forced upon their area if there is widely felt public opposition to it. Equally, if the public does not support deep underground storage of waste then it clearly is undesirable to be creating new nuclear waste in Wales from a Wylfa B power station.”
NFLA Welsh Forum Co-Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy added:
I believe the Welsh Government is mistaken in amending its radioactive waste and energy policies in favour of a deep underground waste repository or new nuclear reactors. The Scottish Government’s approach to waste management of developing an interim storage policy and looking for ‘near site, near surface’ facilities appears to me to be a sensible, practical way forward that the Welsh Government should fully consider instead.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Radioactive Waste Management Policy Briefing 58, August 2015
(2) Welsh Government consultation on Geological Disposal of Higher Activity Wastes: Community Engagement and Implementation Processes, June 2015