Monday, February 12, 2007

Is this what we are going to do with our nuclear waste?

According to the BBC scientists have backed the government's plan to store the UK's nuclear waste deep underground.

David Miliband told the House of Commons back in October that we were to bury our nuclear waste so I guess it is handy that this report supports the governments policy.

The policy announcement last year was not unexpected and was in line with the Committee on Radioactive Waste Managements report a summary of which can be found here. In summary the report states that :
  • Geological disposal is the preferred long term solution
  • Interim storage arrangements will have a vital role to play in the mean time
  • A new approach to implementation is required which should be based on the willingness of local communities to participate.

Professor Charles Curtis, president of The Geological Society of London, presenting the latest report, said "After a long period without waste policy, the UK finally has a way to go forward. We concur the safest and most secure way to go is deep geological depositories, and we see no insurmountable scientific and technological barriers to this."

Apparently between one-third and two-thirds of the UK have a suitable geological make-up for deep nuclear waste burial. It is also likely that the approval, design and construction of such a facility will take up to 40 years to achieve!

There are as I see it a number of problems with the way forward as proposed.

Firstly, the government has to identify and acquire a suitable site. The search for such a site in itself will be mired in political difficulty. The government will not want to look at any sites near to any marginal Labour seats for a start. The uproar amongst the local community eventually chosen to site this repository is likely to be significant.

Secondly, the scientists may be convinced about the viability of such a storage facility but I guess the great British public may take some further convincing. I sat on the Atomic Weapons Establishment Local Liaison Committee for a number of years and this issue was discussed at length on several occasions. My only conclusion was that this stuff was best off contained in specially constructed stores above ground where the state and condition of the drums could be easily monitored and where any faulty packages could easily be retrieved and repackaged.

Thirdly, even if one agreed with the long term disposal option the government needs to address the second point made by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management namely that Interim storage arrangements will have a vital role to play. If it is going to take up to 40 years to implement the long term strategy then they had better put a bit more thought and effort into the medium term strategy.

Of course the problem might not be quite so big if we were not proposing to replace Trident with yet another Nuclear weapons System about which I propose to write more soon.

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