Monday, April 03, 2006

Nuclear waste sell off - have your say

How should we deal with our nuclear waste legacy?

Defra is seeking views on proposals for the long term management of solid low level radioactive waste (LLW) in the UK.

It wants to sell off the body responsible for looking after nuclear waste. If the idea of the private sector being responsible for this legacy for thousands of years appeals to you - please tell Defra. Otherwise, please tell them no.

And while you're at it, tell the Energy Review we don't want any more waste created by more nuclear power stations (use the links right and below).

The cost of cleaning up Britain's old nuclear sites is now estimated at £70 billion according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, although NDA Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver has said this could rise further. That's about £1200 for each of us UK citizens.

"Within these overall totals are the cost of our income generating commercial operations at £14 billion and the cost of decommissioning and clean-up at £56 billion. However, there are a range of factors, some of which are the subject of government policy reviews which will require further assessment. We are targeted to establish the full costs of cleanup by 2008 and so this remains work in progress."

Friends of the Earth UK said that the figures - £14 billion more than previous estimates - highlighted "the economic insanity of nuclear power" as well as the dangerous legacy we are leaving the long-term future.

The British Nuclear Group, which manages the Sellafield site, is to be sold off by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL), but will continue in charge until 2012, with a focus on the decommissioning.

Lawrie Haynes, its Chief Executive, said, "A strong British Nuclear Group means strong competition and that can only be good news for the NDA and the UK taxpayer. The stronger we are, the better placed we are to safely deliver what I call ‘Big V’, that is the value we can create for UK taxpayer by reducing the overall lifetime bill for cleaning up the UK’s nuclear legacy."

He forgot to say that it is also good for the shareholder - a guaranteed income for thousands of years (maybe) - and that of course the taxpayer will have to subsidise this, as it will with all PFI schemes, via local rates or general tax, for a long time to come, without owning of having direct control over the facilities. Labour's PFI legacy will be seen as the equivalent of the Tories' privatisation racket - poor value for taxpayers leading to poor management.

Sellafield contains more than 200 nuclear facilities and a mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility.

The current disposal facility – near Drigg in Cumbria is filling up, and Sir Anthony expects to call a competition for the contract to manage it soon. Defra's consultation asks whether there should be greater flexibility in the management of the wide range of low level radioactive wastes and whether regional and local authority planners should play a greater role.

The deadline for responses is 31 May 2006.


Nuclear waste facts

  • It takes up to one million years before its radiation reaches background level
  • There could eventually be over 20 million cubic metres of low level waste - that is a shape two kilometers long, by 100 metres wide and high
  • A sub-category of LLW, which can be disposed of with ordinary domestic refuse is known as Very Low Level Waste (VLLW), defined as "0.1m3 of material containing less than 400 kilobecquerels of beta/gamma activity"
  • Britain to date has safely packaged only 8% of its nuclear waste
  • 21,600 drums of intermediate waste exist
  • A quarter of our waste comes from our nuclear weapons programme
  • Britain’s first waste repository will not be operational until 2040, providing it gets approval
  • Commercial operations at Sellafield account for 70 percent of its capacity.
  • Most radioactive waste is currently stored under license from the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate
  • The Radioactive Waste Policy Group (RWPG) combines representatives of UK Government departments, the devolved administrations and the principal regulatory bodies (HSE and the environment agencies).
  • The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) will report in May on the results of its three year study into how Britain should dispose of its high level waste - which will amount to 478,000 cubic metres, or enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall five times, by the time all of the country's 23 current nuclear reactors have been shut down and dismantled.

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