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Trouble in store

Analysis

. . . And if we go nuclear, what happens to waste?

If the Energy Review was aimed at preparing the public for a new nuclear build programme, it also made clear that power station operators will have to foot the decommissioning and waste disposal bills.

This is not going to be cheap.

Later this month, the government's Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CORWM) will recommend that the UK nuclear industry's toxic legacy should be buried deep under ground (see News).

CORWM chairman Gordon McKerron says that his committee's three year examination of waste storage and disposal options had concluded that deep geological disposal presents the lowest environmental, economic, social and security risks.

When ORWM's final report is put to government on 31 July, it will advise that a bunker is built between 300m and 1km underground, and that the facility be closed as soon as practicable, McKerron said.

Burying waste limits the potential for terrorist attack and radioactivity leaks, while reducing its vulnerability to war, civil unrest or economic meltdown, says McKerron.

Finding a way of getting rid of nuclear waste is key to nuclear decommissioning.

In the coming decades, Britain's nuclear sites will produce tons of intermediate and low level waste.

McKerron told NCE's recent nuclear decommissioning conference that construction of a deep level waste bunker is likely to be 40 or more years away - assuming government accepts CORWM's recommendation.

But Nirex, which manages Britain's low level nuclear waste, warns that 50 years is a more realistic timescale.

Nirex came to grief in 1997 while carrying out geological investigations for a deep rock nuclear waste repository in Cumbria. Its planning application to build an underground site investigation laboratory was quashed in the face of fierce public opposition.

McKerron points out that although plans for the Nirex repository were technically and scientifially sound, the company failed to consult locals or win public support nationally.

It took 15 years for Nirex to find a suitable site, close to the source of most of Britain's intermediate and low level nuclear waste the first time around.

Now the search for a new site will have to be slower, with progress interspersed with detailed public briefings.

Developing a new repository will also require technical, environmental, social and economic cases to be made for proposed sites, says Greenpeace senior nuclear advisor Jean McSorey.

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