Managing controlled wastes

1.1.2 Government-led programmes

Mechanisms for managing controlled radioactive wastes are invariably under national government control with legislative and regulatory systems in place to ensure safety and security. In the UK, for example, in 2004 the government commissioned an independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and in 2005 it established the NDA to ensure its 20 civil public sector nuclear sites were decommissioned and cleaned up, safely, securely, cost effectively in ways that would protect the environment for this and future generations. CoRWM recommended to government (CoRWM, 2006) that geological disposal be the end-point for long-term management of RAW but with robust storage in the interim period with provision against delay or failure in reaching the end-point. It also recommended a staged process with flexibility in decision making and partnership with communities willing to participate in the siting process and an expanded national R&D programme to support the process. In response the government published a White Paper outlining the process and stages (Fig. 1.7) that would lead to permanent geological disposal of the UK ’ s wastes (DEFRA, 2008). Figure 1.7 shows steps in the UK’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process.

An invitation was sent out to communities in stage 1, inviting expressions of interest in hosting a repository or geological disposal facility (GDF). In stage 2, simple criteria were used to determine if the location was likely to be suitable. At this stage, areas were ruled out, for example, if they had mineral resources which might prove useful in future or aquifers. Communi­ties in potentially suitable areas could decide to participate further in stage 3, while in stage 4 desk-based studies would be carried out which would lead to borehole investigations in stage 5 prior to actual construction of the GDF underground in stage 6. Extensive work is needed during the early stages to underpin the safety case to the regulators to allow construction and safe operation and eventual closure of the GDF, including decades of R&D. This volunteer approach also needs intensive public and stakeholder


1.7 Stages in the UK’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process.

engagement to convince communities that this is the right approach to dealing with the waste problem. UK government extended the NDA’s responsibility to include geological disposal of the waste and in 2007 it established the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) as the implementing body responsible for constructing the GDF.

In other countries the process of developing a strategy for managing radioactive waste has been difficult. In the USA and Japan national pro­grammes have been hindered by a lack of public support, and without a clear end-point (repository site) the programmes flounder. The Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, USA, was hindered by lack of public accept­ability, legal challenge and technical shortcomings. In 2009, the Obama Administration announced that it had determined that developing a reposi­tory at Yucca Mountain was not a workable option and that the US needs a different solution for nuclear waste disposal. The Secretary of Energy established the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America ’s Nuclear Future in January 2010 to evaluate alternative approaches for managing SF and HLW from commercial and defence activities. The BRC conducted a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. It has provided recommendations for ‘developing a safe long­term solution to managing the Nation’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.’ Their final report was submitted to the Secretary of Energy in January 2012 (BRC, 2012) and it contained eight recommendations for legislative and administrative action to develop a ‘new’ strategy to manage nuclear waste:

1. A new, consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste manage­ment facilities.

2. A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste man­agement programme and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed.

3. Access to the funds nuclear utility ratepayers are providing for the purpose of nuclear waste management.

4. Prompt efforts to develop one or more geological disposal facilities.

5. Prompt efforts to develop one or more consolidated storage facilities.

6. Prompt efforts to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of SF and HLW to consolidated storage and disposal facilities when such facilities become available.

7. Support for continued US innovation in nuclear energy technology and for workforce development.

8. Active US leadership in international efforts to address safety, waste management, non — proliferation, and security concerns.

The near-term direction advocated by the BRC aligns with ongoing DOE programming and planning. Current programmes will identify alternatives and conduct scientific research and technology development to enable long­term storage, transportation, and geological disposal of SF and all radioac­tive wastes generated by existing and future NFCs. The BRC report has informed the Administration’s work with Congress to define a responsible and achievable path forward to manage SF and nuclear waste in the US. The US DOE endorsed the key principles of the BRC recommendations and published a strategy (DOE, 2013) to move forward with their implementation.

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