First quarter of 2002
of plutonium and uranium stocks must be declared waste, says Advisory
Committee to the UK Government
WISE-Paris, 21 March 2002
The UK Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee
(RWMAC), an independent body advising the UK Government, has just issued
a response to the latters consultation document Managing
Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for Developing a Policy for Managing
Solid Radioactive Waste in the UK, published in September 2001
(1). RWMACs response provides interesting
input for the forthcoming public debate ahead of the UK Governments
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
In its response, submitted on 12 March 2002 and
due to be published in the coming weeks, RWMAC welcomes the UK Governments
consultation document as an important step towards formulating
policy for the UKs 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 UKs 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 Governments 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 UKs 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 UKs 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
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 Governments
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. RWMACs 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: RWMACs website: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rwmac/index.htm
- See http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/consult/radwaste/pdf/radwaste.pdf
- See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199899/ldselect/ldsctech/41/4102.htm
- House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Committee, Report on Radioactive Waste: the Governments
Consultation Process, 13 February 2002 See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmenvfru/407/40703.htm