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UK advice: Underground repository for LLW; excess PU should be classified as waste

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(April 9, 1999) The House of Lord's Select Committee on Science and Technology's Report on UK Nuclear Waste Management Policy, published on March 24, has accepted nuclear industry propaganda on the need for nuclear waste dumps. The industry takes the view that the key problem with developing a nuclear dump site is to persuade the public to accept it.

(508.5004) WISE Amsterdam - The report into the management of nuclear waste has come down in favor of at least one deep repository for low-level wastes. The committee, whose report will form the basis of the UK government review of its nuclear waste policy and new legislation, said present UK policies for managing radioactive waste was "fragmented". The report also recommends that plutonium and uranium which isn't going to be used for fuel--the vast majority--should be classified as waste.

The report proposes a re-examination of the policy of substitution -- returning smaller quantities of high-level waste to overseas customers, with the same quantity of radioactivity as would have been returned in much larger quantities of low-level waste. There is criticism for the Ministry of Defence for its policy towards waste management and its lack of long-term planning. The committee supports continued reprocessing of Magnox fuels and concludes that "reprocessing [advanced-gas-cooled] and [pressurized water reactor] fuel is environmentally neutral compared to direct disposal, but reprocessing of this fuel is not valuable as a waste management method unless the separated plutonium can be recycled and re-used."
However, the report offers little comfort to British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL). It points out that since nuclear reprocessing multiplies the volume of nuclear waste, particularly if plutonium is treated as waste as the Lords recommend, BNFL's plans for Britain to become a major importer of spent nuclear fuel would require a much larger nuclear dump than previously proposed. The government would now have to include its promised review of reprocessing as part of its review of nuclear waste management.

The committee recommends replacing the existing NIREX waste management company and the Radioactive Waste Management Committee with a Radioactive Waste Disposal Company to design, construct, and operate the repository, or repositories, and a Nuclear Waste Management Commission to develop "a comprehensive strategy".

Friends of the Earth has described the report as "taking a wrong turn from page one". The Committee expects the British public to go along with a program to convince them to accept nuclear waste dumps. But the 1996 Nirex Inquiry, which ended in a complete victory for the objectors including FOE, established that we do not have the science to keep nuclear waste isolated from human communities for the hundreds of thousands of years needed for it to become safe.


  • Friends of the Earth press release, 24 March
  • N-Base Briefing 173, 28 March 1999

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