Bury nuclear waste, say Government advisors

Britain's radioactive waste should be buried underground at geologically suitable sites agreed with local communities, a Government-commissioned inquiry has concluded.

Geological storage is the safest way of dealing with higher level nuclear waste produced by the UK's existing nuclear facilities in the long run, said the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in its final recommendations".

Low-level radioactive waste currently ends up at the national repository in Cumbria, and some is incinerated, but the UK still lacks a strategy for dealing with intermediate and high-level waste, 80,000 cubic metres of which have built up at nuclear sites around the country. This is expected to grow to 470,000 cubic metres as nuclear facilities are decommissioned over the coming decades.

CoRWM emerged in 2003 with the purpose of weighing up available long-term storage options for higher level nuclear waste.

Its chairman, professor Gordon MacKerron, said of the recommendations: "The UK has been creating radioactive waste for 50 years without any clear idea of what to do with it. We are confident that our recommendations provide the way forward.

"It will, however, take a long time to put in place all the component parts so now it's time to get on with the job," he warned.

Constructing the underground nuclear waste dumps may take decades, or even a century, not least because of the controversial issue of choosing locations, the committee said.

While CoRWM did not suggest locations, it did recommend that these should be negotiated with neighbouring communities on a 'voluntary basis.' Local communities should get incentives to host the sites, with the option to withdraw up to a pre-defined point, CoRWM said.

Environmental groups raised concerns over waste leaking from deep burial sites, and called for efforts to focus on ensuring the safety of on-site storage instead.

Friends of the Earth said that the CoRWM report provides "little more of a solution to the problem of nuclear waste than we've had for the last 30 years.

"There is no site and it could be 100 years before any facility is approved and built - even if a safe site could be found. Urgent action therefore is needed to ensure Britain's waste mountain is stored safely in the interim while the longer-term issues are investigated."

Jean McSorley of Greenpeace said: "Greenpeace believes that the most environmentally acceptable option is to keep radioactive waste on existing nuclear sites in robust stores, which can be constantly monitored." She welcomed CoRWM's recommendation to invest heavily in new technologies and measures to improve nuclear safety.

The eleven-member committee, which included nuclear scientists, environmentalists, economists and lawyers, has been analysing various options of disposing of nuclear waste for the last two and a half years. Apart from deep burial, it also considered more spectacular possibilities such as burying nuclear waste under the ocean floor, or firing it into the sun.

CoRWM did not consider waste from possible new nuclear built, only current and future waste from existing civilian and military installations.

The CoWRM report can be viewed here.

Goska Romanowicz


| nuclear


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