First quarter of 2002
Radioactive Waste Management: A Bit of High Level = A Lot of Low Level?
WISE-Paris, 30 January 2002
The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, Michael Meacher, has stated that the Sellafield operator
British Nuclear Fuels Ltd wishes to operate Curie-Swap on
the foreign waste arising from reprocessing in the UK. In his answer
to Mr. Llew Smith's parliamentary question on the management of radioactive
waste in the UK (see hereunder), Mr. Meacher confirmed that BNFL opted
for the return of small volumes of high level waste instead of huge
volumes of intermediate and low level wastes arising from reprocessing
of foreign spent fuels at Sellafield.
According to the replies by four Japanese utilities to a public questionnaire
from two citizen groups (Green Action, Kyoto and Citizens' Nuclear Information
Center, Tokyo), BNFL has offered the waste exchange to all oversees
customers in October 1996. As for substitution with Cogema, all four
companies stated that this would not happen, and that low and intermediate
waste would be returned to Japan in glass canister or bitumen form.
However, waste exchange operated on the basis of the radioactive content
of the wastes is also COGEMAs current option for the management
of foreign wastes in France. The largest volumes of waste are in the
form of cemented low level waste. Neither operators, client companies
nor governments are currently considering to send back these wastes,
in spite of the illegal storage of foreign wastes in France.
If the Curie-Swap option is put into practice, the United Kingdom,
like France, will have to face the additional problems of the management
of the intermediate and low level wastes, for instance the numerous
transports as well as the construction and operation of large-scale
final disposal facilities.
Hansard [Official Report] 28 January 2002, Columns 83-4W
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs if it is her policy to ensure that radioactive waste
arising from the reprocessing of spent fuel for overseas customers under
contracts signed since 1976 will be returned to countries of origin
without any element of substitution. 
This is one of the issues on which we have invited
public comments in our 12 September consultation paper "Managing
radioactive waste safely". A copy is in the Library. Pages 25-26
of the paper say that British Nuclear Fuels plc wishes to substitute
a small volume of high level waste in place of larger volumes of intermediate
or low level waste returned to overseas customers, but that is dependent
on how high or intermediate level waste should be managed in the UK
in the long term the main issue addressed in the consultation
paper. No decision has been taken.
The paper invites views on the link between "waste substitution"
and the availability of a long-term management strategy. The consultation
period closes on 12 March.