First quarter of 2002

Part of plutonium and uranium stocks must be declared waste, says Advisory Committee to the UK Government

WISE-Paris, 21 March 2002

[Posted 22/03/2002]

The UK Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC), an independent body advising the UK Government, has just issued a response to the latter’s consultation document “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for Developing a Policy for Managing Solid Radioactive Waste in the UK”, published in September 2001 (1). RWMAC’s response provides interesting input for the forthcoming public debate ahead of the UK Government’s planned decision-making on the issue, scheduled for 2006-2007.

With this consultation document, the UK Government, and the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, launched the first stage (2001-2002) of an action programme for reaching decisions: a national debate on how to manage solid radioactive waste in the long term. The overall aim of the five-stage action programme is to define, develop and implement a UK nuclear waste management policy. As part of the second stage (2002-2004), the UK Government is proposing a programme of research and public debate among all relevant parties, to foster informed discussion in order to examine the different possible options and come up with recommendations. According to the programme, stage three (2005) will involve further consultation with a view to seeking public opinion on the proposed option. The chosen option is scheduled to be announced by the UK Government in 2006 (stage four) and suitable legislation, if required, is to be adopted by 2007 (stage five).

In its response, submitted on 12 March 2002 and due to be published in the coming weeks, RWMAC welcomes the UK Government’s consultation document “as an important step towards formulating policy for the UK’s long-term management of its solid radioactive wastes”, since “these wastes represent a national problem that must be dealt with”. In particular, RWMAC stresses the need to reconsider the management of plutonium and uranium stocks.

In May 1999, in its response to a report on “The Management of Nuclear Waste” published on 10 March 1999 by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology (2), RWMAC stated that it “agrees that there can only be a limited use for the stock [of separated plutonium] in the foreseeable future and that the remainder of the plutonium should be declared a waste unless a credible reason for doing otherwise can be given”.

In the context of the issues concerning which components of the UK’s uranium and plutonium stocks can be classed as wastes, what proportion of the total they represent and when this can be decided, RWMAC recalls the memorandum submitted by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) to the enquiry by the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee into the UK Government’s current radioactive waste management consultation process (3). In its memorandum, BNFL states that “the pre-treatment [of MOX fuel] may be unacceptable in terms of hazard incurred and hence cost. BNFL, therefore, recognises that there is a need, in any long-term management plan to consider alternative ways of dealing with such material”.

RWMAC considers that there must be “a challenging look at each component of the UK’s current plutonium and uranium stocks to decide which should be declared a waste in the shorter-term”. It highlights the existing “gaps in knowledge concerning the way in which plutonium and uranium should be treated for longer-term interim storage or eventual disposal as wastes”. RWMAC stresses that “it is now inevitable that at least a proportion of the UK’s current stocks of plutonium and uranium will need to be declared as wastes at some point in the future”.

To ensure that the radioactive waste management debate addresses the challenge of dealing with potential plutonium wastes, RWMAC recommends that work be initiated or taken forward, firstly, to “include potential plutonium waste forms in the process of evaluating long-term management options for solid radioactive waste against common criteria as part of the formulation of policy”, and secondly, to “identify plutonium material and storage forms that could be considered to be sufficiently passively safe, and put in place a system of ensuring that these are compatible with their long-term waste management”. There is also a need for similar work in relation to potential uranium wastes.

Lastly, in a global perspective, following the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, RWMAC insists that “additional security considerations will need to be taken into account as part of decisions on the way in which plutonium and uranium need to be conditioned, packaged and stored”.

Now that the consultation on the UK Government’s proposed action programme has ended (since 12 March 2002), the public debate on the issue of safe long-term management of radioactive waste is due to get underway. RWMAC’s response is one of the contributions that challenges the UK Government and the industry to come out of their dream of a plutonium cycle and face the real problem that the accumulation of plutonium has turned into.

See also: RWMAC’s website:


  1. See
  2. See
  3. House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Report on “Radioactive Waste: the Government’s Consultation Process”, 13 February 2002 See

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