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Monday, 21 April 2014

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‘The NDA must share all the relevant facts’

SIR – I have been shadowing the MRWS Partnership’s work for nearly three years. When I first looked into the issues on how to manage the nation’s nuclear waste, I supported the MRWS process continuing. As the process continued through Stage 3, I became disillusioned by manipulation of data and by omission of crucial pieces of information. I am now totally opposed to the MRWS process; a decision I reached long before there was any reference to Ennerdale and nuclear waste. I say this to demonstrate that I am not an ill-informed NIMBY.

It is the matter of omitting crucial pieces of information to which I respond to the article by John Clarke, chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

There is one theme running through Mr Clarke’s article and is repeated by other NDA officials: it is that there are no current proposals for Ennerdale. This is probably true. However, Mr Clarke omits information known to NDA. At the community meeting in Ennerdale Bridge on December 10, Dr Dearlove confirmed that the Ennerdale fell contained a rock volume that had the potential to host a geological waste facility (albeit, in Dr Dearlove’s own words, a “not particularly promising” one).

At the same meeting Mr Alun Ellis, NDA Director, confirmed that if the decision-making bodies (DMBs) proceeded to Stage 4, then the potentially suitable rock volume of Ennerdale fell would be selected by the NDA for further investigation.

Perhaps in future, Mr Clarke will be less selective about what he says and include this important admission by Mr Ellis.

In the article by Mr Clarke, I see further examples of key information being omitted. He states: “In the light of experience around the world the Government also decided that the fairest way to find a suitable place to locate such a facility was to ask communities to volunteer.”

What Mr Clarke omitted to say was that these other countries searched for the best geologically suitable regions first and then sought volunteer communities. Finland, for example, found the best geology first and had five communities competing to host their nuclear waste facility. In the UK we asked for a volunteer community to come forward and then to try to see how to make the geology fit. In addition, Copeland Borough Council ‘volunteered’ us all into the process without any pre-consultation – something else Mr Clarke might wish to include in future communications.

He states that “the Partnership was not a decision-making body, it was an independent group made up of community figures from areas including politics, business, tourism, the arts, agriculture and the church.”

What Mr Clarke omitted to say was the Partnership included representatives of the three DMBs. He also omitted to say that the Partnership was chaired by representatives from these same three DMBs. The Partnership Chair at the time the final report was published was Coun Elaine Woodburn. The chair of the Copeland Council executive, the body that will consider this same final report, is none other than the same Coun Woodburn. In effect, Coun Woodburn chaired one group producing a report and then will chair a second group to decide on the issues raised in that same report. So much for Mr Clarke’s understanding of “independence”. Perhaps he will include these points in future communications.

Mr Clarke states that if a particular area could be geologically suitable and the community is willing then some test drilling and seismic testing could happen. Which community is he referring to?

The MRWS White Paper states “Credible local support would be expected amongst organisations likely to form a Community Siting Partnership, should a decision to participate be taken, as well as among the local community. ”

The host community is one of the members of the Community Siting Partnership. There is no mention anywhere in Mr Clarke’s article to even the existence of the host community, never mind the desire to have their support. Why would a knowledgeable person such as Mr Clarke omit to include the existence of the host community? Again perhaps he should include reference to this important group in future communications.

On geology, Mr Clarke states that from expert opinion not enough is known about geology of Cumbria to rule anything in or out. What he has omitted to say is that on one matter all expert geological opinion seems to be agreed: that the prospect of finding suitable geology in West Cumbria is, at best, remote. Even the Partnership’s own consultant geologist, Dr Dearlove, concludes that the prospect of finding suitable geology is “not particularly promising”. This is a very important piece of information that Mr Clarke has omitted to mention. Surely, at a time of massive government spending cuts, he is not advocating that we should spend potentially billions of pounds of public money on a project that will almost certainly end in failure. Perhaps he will include the importance of fiscal probity in future communications.

For all our sakes, it is to be hoped that, in future, Mr Clarke will be less selective about what information he communicates and will include all the relevant facts.

David I. WOOD

Ennerdale Bridge, Cleator

SIR – Further to your publication of my note of November 8 on Concepts A, B and C for the disposal of Nuclear Waste, may I add an aspect only lightly examined in NDA reports – the storage of High Active Waste (HAW)?

Considering spent fuel, all the above disposal concepts require a century or so of storage above ground to decay down the rate of heat emission before burial. If the HAW is not reprocessed, a probable UK nuclear programme of (say) 20-40 GW(E) would in that period produce thousands of spent elements containing of the order of 1000 tonnes of plutonium for long storage. Reprocessing would split the spent fuel into vitrified fission products (VFP) and plutonium; the latter could easily be handled for deep disposal. However, if the plutonium is recycled in a reactor, it could provide useful power: also, its quality becomes much lower in Pu239, so safer to dispose.

Colin Haslam mentioned in his letter you published on November 22 that Professor Wade Allison, in his book Radiation and Reason, has pointed out that safety limits used in nuclear operations are 200 times lower than that applied for a patient undergoing radiotherapy. He has suggested a thousandfold relaxation in hazard assessment. Such an approach (AHARS – As High As Relatively Safe) could make storage and disposal much easier than the present ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable).

It may be safe enough to earth-over surface stores and avoid the need for deep burial. For example, the thickly-shielded VFP could be overpacked with actinide-absorbing material: after a storage period under management of dry conditions to cool out Sr90 and Cs137, a clay cover could stop water in-leakage, followed by topping with landscaping to create a ‘Low Fell’ with sheep grazing among the shrubs and trees and secluded bird hides here and there.. Siting the facility over saline ground as at Sellafield could provide a further safety feature similar to that accepted for non-active toxic waste.

This Concept D seems more attractive than the concepts above. In an even simpler method E, the High Active Raffinate in reprocessing could be diluted directly into cement for surface disposal as in D. This may sound radical but it eliminates the high active operations of evaporation, liquor storage, vitrification and long glass storage. In fact, there is no High Active Waste at all and little technical to prove. It rests almost entirely with Cumbrians!

All the above concepts should be compared in a ‘broad brush’ feasibility and cost study, run by a group of all interests as suggested by Haslam. A mominal five per cent of savings to the UK should be allocated to Cumbria. Further, both the standards AHARS and ALARA, should be investigated.

Bob BURTON

Culcheth, Warrington

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