Like the standing joke about buses turning up late and in pairs, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities fear that Boris Johnson’s commitment to treble Britain’s nuclear generating capacity by 2050 will create so much new toxic nuclear waste that the government will want to build a second underground nuclear dump in the next two decades.
A large, and much maligned, element in last week’s UK Energy Security Strategy was the pledge to build up to eight new large nuclear power stations over the next three decades, generating 24 gigawatts of electricity, and the UK could run out of room to store the resultant radioactive waste if the Prime Minister’s plan becomes reality.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) receives almost £3 billion a year in taxpayers’ money to carry out decommissioning work at Britain’s former nuclear power stations and to manage the nation’s legacy of dangerous radioactive waste, mostly at Sellafield, including the world’s largest stockpile of deadly plutonium.
With toxic waste being a by-product of nuclear fission, Government officials have spent the last five decades trying to find a way to dispose of radioactive waste produced by the UK’s nuclear plants. The NDA is currently in discussions with local Councils to establish a so-called Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) at one of four sites, three of which are close to Sellafield in Cumbria and the other near Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire. In a GDF, nuclear waste would be buried hundreds of metres below the ground or below the seabed and left there forever.
NFLA Secretary Richard Outram recently visited the Lincolnshire seaside town of Mablethorpe to view plans for the GDF and tour the proposed site, a former gas terminal at neighbouring Theddlethorpe. He also met with local councillors and residents opposed to the plans to discuss collaborative action in the future.
Professor Claire Corkhill is Chair in Nuclear Material Degradation and EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow and Reader at the University of Sheffield, and a member of the Committee on Radioactive waste Management (CORWM) which advises the government. Professor Corkhill has publicly commented that existing plans for the dump will only provide sufficient capacity to take the legacy waste from 70 years of operations and waste from up to 16 gigawatts of nuclear new build, and has expressed concern about ‘rushing to expand nuclear power until the implementation of radioactive waste policy [i.e. the GDF] has progressed further’.[i]
Councillor David Blackburn, Chair of the NFLA, fears that the lack of capacity may lead to a bigger dump or a second one being built:
“The NDA has recently published an estimate that building the nuclear waste dump at its current capacity will cost between £20 billion and £53 billion at today’s prices, that site selection and construction will take 15-20 years, and that its operations will take around 100 years to complete.
“Inevitably nuclear projects cost far more and take much longer than the initial estimate to complete so realistically the impact upon the pockets of the British taxpayer will be considerable and, more importantly, the lives of the members of the community that is ultimately obliged to harbour this monstrous facility will be transformed for at least a century, and very possibly forever.
“Nor is there any guarantee that after all of the sacrifice the dump will remain secure and the waste safe for the countless millennia it is buried. Other near-new GDFs in Germany and the USA have already suffered waste leakages and an underground explosion.”
The Nuclear Free Local Authorities oppose new nuclear project and instead champion a combination of insulation, energy efficiency measures, and domestic and community energy generation to reduce customers’ fuel bills and reduce demands on the national grid, and a massive and sustained investment in a variety of new and proven renewable technologies and storage and distribution solutions to address Britain’s future energy needs and tackle climate change.
Councillor Blackburn explained the NFLA’s position on nuclear:
“For the NFLA nuclear forms no part of the solution. We are opposed to new nuclear projects and so oppose the creation of new radioactive waste. We seek the closure of Britain’s existing nuclear stations as soon as possible. And we oppose the GDF, and we most certainly do not want to see a second one, as want to see nuclear waste managed on-site and near the surface at the places where it has been produced so that it can be kept continuously secured and monitored, until such time as a technological solution to make it safe is arrived at, rather than dumped down a hole and forgotten about!”
For more information, please contact NFLA Secretary Richard Outram by email on email@example.com or mobile 07583097793