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Committee on Radioactive Waste Management Draft Report: Geological Disposal of Higher Activity Wastes

Response to CoRWM Report to Government on Deep Geological Disposal of Higher Activity Wastes, (CoRWM document 2550)

Submitted 22 May 2009

General Comments on the Draft Report:

This is a very good report, pulling together a lot of useful information about geological disposal in the MRWS process. In particular, it does a service to NDA RWMD in communicating effectively their approach and the activities planned for the coming years. The recommendations are appropriate and sensible, and the technical detail provided should command widespread support in the Earth science community.

Specific Comments on the Draft Report:

2. Volunteerism and Partnership in the Geological Disposal Siting Process

2.26 – we are pleased to see the open meeting held by the Geological Society in October referred to. It is true to say that most of those present were aware of the White Paper (though by no means all – for example, there were Fellows of the Geological Society present who were not previously aware of the MRWS process). But the meeting had several functions, and was aimed at multiple audiences. We sought to inform people about the process, but also to make those who had some knowledge or involvement in the process more aware of what geoscientists will (or can – or cannot) do in support of the MRWS programme. So an important function, which we are particularly well placed to help with, was to bring together those who have knowledge of the process with those who have knowledge of the relevant earth science.

Certainly we found it a challenge to attract those who were unaware of the White Paper and the MRWS programme, but who ‘ought to’ be aware of it, e.g. those from local authorities who were not already in contact with NDA, CoRWM or NuLeAF. Our limited success on this front was not for want of trying! We remain committed to continuing to play a leading role in facilitating communication between the earth science community and other bodies and audiences with an interest in radioactive waste management, and look forward to working with CoRWM, NDA and others in this respect.

11. Inventory of Radioactive Waste

The report makes the important point that clarity with regard to the inventory, and what parts of it can be expected to be disposed of in any proposed GDF, will be essential to building an effective working relationship built on trust with a potential host community.

The issue of waste from new build nuclear power stations is not explicitly addressed here. Government has recently given the impression of a default assumption that new build waste will be disposed of in the same facility/facilities as legacy and committed waste. CoRWM’s 2006 report was emphatic that while the technical solution adopted for any new build waste might be the same as for legacy waste, the political solution should be regarded as quite separate. Some have expressed profound concern that the current lack of clarity on this matter could derail the process of agreeing the location and basis for a GDF for legacy waste, for example if a potential host community perceives that the inventory it is committing to has become open ended (because it is now taken to include new build waste).

We would not seek to take a position on the politics of whether new build wastes should in fact be disposed of in the same facilities, or as part of the same MRWS programme, as legacy wastes. Rather, we think it is important that there is clarity on this issue so that the progress now being made with regard to legacy wastes is not jeopardised.

12. Developing Concepts for Geological Disposal

We agree that it is sensible to consider GDF depths outside the 200-1000m range. In raising this, it would be sensible to note some of the factors which come into play when considering depth – in situ rock stresses versus depth, excavation and operation costs, temperature, etc.