Britain to bury waste from nuclear plants

Britain will bury its most hazardous radioactive waste in underground rock formations, the Government said on Thursday as it set out long-term plans for dealing with waste from the country's nuclear power plants.

Geological disposal has been on the cards for some time as the option favoured by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), charged with finding a long term solution to storing highly radioactive waste (see related story).

As well as announcing a strategy based on CoRWM’s conclusions Environment Secretary David Miliband outlined a framework for implementing it.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will remain in charge of dealing with nuclear waste disposal, which will be regulated by the Health and Safety Executive and the environment agencies responsible for regulation. The Government also plans to set up a successor of CoRWM as an advisory body.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks announced the dissolution of Nirex, the company set up by the nuclear industry in 1982 to deal with Britain’s radioactive waste, which will be incorporated into the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

“Since 1997 Nirex has played a crucial leadership role establishing our knowledge on geological disposal of radioactive waste,” he said.

“We want that knowledge and technology used to augment the NDA’s capabilities as they move forward with their new responsibilities.”

The announcements met with criticism on environmental grounds, with the Liberal Democrats calling the dissolution of Nirex a “blow for safety and the environment” and Greenpeace noting the uncertainties that remain around geological disposal.

Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne said that David Milliband “has wound up NIREX whose independent expertise on storage and disposal has been crucial. Its incentive to curb costs rather than make safety paramount is a blow for safety and the environment, and a failure for David Miliband against other Government departments. There is now a conflict of interest at the heart of nuclear safety,” he said.

Greenpeace’s Nathan Argent echoed his concerns: “There’s already enough nuclear waste in this country to fill the Albert Hall five times over. And CoRWM’s report clearly states that burying nuclear waste in a hole in the ground is not a sure-fire solution to deal with this enormous problem.

“Yet, unbelievably, the government was pushing for a series of new nuclear reactors, which would quadruple the amount of the most highly radioactive waste, before CoRWM’s report was published.

“And it could take several generations to find a so-called suitable disposal site, if indeed at all. Therefore a period of interim storage will be inevitable, meaning nuclear waste will continue to be trundled around the country for decades.

Goska Romanowicz

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