‘Today, 437 nuclear reactors are in use around the world in 31 countries. In addition, more than 60 countries have expressed an interest in acquiring nuclear power for electricity production in the future. Each reactor will produce its own wastes. Yet no repository exists for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world’
Allison Macfarlane 2011 ‘It’s 20500: Do you know where your nuclear waste is?’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 67 (4) 30-36
American Blue Ribbon Commission Report: January 26th 2012
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has issued its report. The Commission was set up after Barack Obama halted the process for siting a deep disposal facility at Yucca Mountain.
Members of the Commission visited the MRWS Partnership to get an understanding of what was happening in the UK. They have not adopted our model. Instead they have endorsed the approach being taken elsewhere in Europe:
- develop generic criteria for deep disposal,
- identify several suitable sites and
- THEN ask for communities to volunteer.
Here are their recommendations:
‘First the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should develop a generic disposal standard and supporting regulatory requirements early on in the siting process.
Generally-applicable regulations are more likely to earn public confidence than site-specific standards. In addition, having a generic standard will support the efficient consideration and examination of multiple sites.’
‘Once the new waste management organization is established it should:
Develop a basic initial set of siting criteria – these criteria will ensure that time is not wasted investigating sites that are clearly unsuitable or inappropriate’
‘Encourage expressions of interest from a large variety of communities that have potentially suitable sites - as these communities become engaged in the process, the implementing organization must be flexible enough not to force the issue of consent while also being fully prepared to take advantage of promising opportunities when they arise.’
‘Establish initial program milestones – Milestones should be laid out in a mission plan to allow for review by Congress, the Administration, and stakeholders and to provide verifiable indicators for oversight of the organization’s performance.’
The Commission also stresses the importance of independent review:
‘Independent scientific and technical oversight of the nuclear waste management program is essential and should continue to be provided for out of nuclear waste fee payments.’
What do experts across the world have to say about deep disposal?
The research, experience and recommendations for deep radioactive waste disposal both in the UK and abroad since the early 1990s can be summarised in this way:
- Select regions for site search based on geographical, geological and hydrogeological attributes
- The basic criteria for site selection are host rock independent
- The regional geological setting of the site is of paramount importance
- Low hydraulic gradients and a long-term groundwater return time are essential
- Simple geology is preferable
- Long-term geological stability is desirable – inasmuch as it can be predicted.
In contrast, the MRWS process has resulted in a single region based primarily on ‘voluntarism’, rather than on the geological criterion (1) above.
The MRWS process also highlights a purely host rock approach, in contradiction to (2) above.
Criterion (3) is simply ignored.
West Cumbria meets neither criterion (4) nor (5). Nor can geological stability (6) be guaranteed if a site along the coastal region – which is near a major fault line - is selected.
Therefore the current MRWS process is ignoring all past and present guidelines, national and international, and even its own policies and scientific criteria up to 2002. The volunteer approach – i.e. a ‘willing community’ criterion has been given a higher priority over recommended geological criteria for choosing regions of interest.
No other country has followed such a path.
For more details see International site search criteria SOLD-DDC
For Allison Macfarlane’s summary of the search for sites across the world, read her paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientsts
Allison Macfarlane is a member of the American Blue Ribbon Commission