Saturday, 10 August 2019

Nuclear waste stewardship is the responsible approach

Letter submitted to the Guardian:
Professor Hyatt is right (",Guardian letter, 8 Aug) the current generation has a moral responsibility to take action to deal with the legacy of radioactive waste created by its exploitation of nuclear energy for nuclear power (and weapons).

The original UK Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (Corwm) recommended in 2006 that, on the basis of inter-generational equity, the legacy nuclear detritus is our responsibility, and proposed a geologic disposal strategy be adopted by government for this waste, while a vigorous research programme be continued to support the long-term storage of existing wastes, including their security implications.

Corwm explicitly pointed out such a programme was appropriate only for legacy wastes; and should not be conflated with radioactive waste burdens from nuclear power plants still to be built or operated, which require their own dedicated strategy.

Ministers  unfortunately cherry-picked from the recommendations which were presented as an integrated package, and ignored to dictum that legacy and yet-to-be-created waste should not be handled together.  They are now pressing ahead with  a £ half billion grant of taxpayers’ money to private nuclear developers to develop a new nuclear plant design called small modular reactors (SMRs) or advanced nuclear technologies, all of which will  create new volumes of radioactive wastes.

Professor Hyatt states that: “work will continue apace in our universities, industries, regulators and government to develop the evidence and models that will assure the safety of geological disposal.”

He and his research colleagues should accept that despite the new can-do boosterised optimistic spirit demanded  by prime minister Johnson for the British nation, it is possible no such solution or safety assurance for final disposal can be reached.

Therefore it is prudent that government plans for very long term stewardship, ie engineered storage of existing nuclear wastes.

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