Nuclear Waste Report 2019 highlights complexity

i Nov 17th No Comments by

Co-ordinated by a Green Party ex-MEP, this newly-published report is a thoughtful contribution from an anti-nuclear perspective.

A majority of the authors of The World Nuclear Waste Report 2019: Focus Europe support geological disposal, but they understandably demand a much more open public debate, and continued scientific review.

What makes the Report interesting within the UK national context is that anti-nuclear campaigners here have previously linked the disposal of radwaste with the nuclear new build debate. But this detailed international report separates out the issues related to the management and disposal of radioactive waste, and identifies the significant ethical, environmental and economic matters that need to be addressed in their own right.

GDFWatch argues that whether we should build new nuclear power plants is a perfectly legitimate public debate, but that that debate should not distract us from addressing the issues of how we manage the waste we already have, and would continue to have, regardless of whether the UK unilaterally disarms its nuclear arsenal and/or shuts down its nuclear energy sector.

The World Nuclear Waste Report provides substantial international data on issues which GDFWatch has been raising in the UK, eg:

  • it will be many decades before repositories are operational, but there are significant environmental and cost issues with maintaining surface interim stores over the long term (with the current furore over the Runit facility in the Marshall Islands an exemplar of how easy it is for a society to ‘forget’ about an “interim” surface store built before climate change was a pressing global threat)
  • the need for a changed, collaborative, careful approach to assessing potential sites, which engages meaningfully with local communities and the wider public

In every country, the Report says, “addressing the task of safely managing and disposing of our radioactive waste demands from society, politicians, citizens, science and industry to be more open and patient, money, and willing to admit mistakes and failures and to rethink approaches and strategies.” In the UK, the new Working With Communities site search and selection process opens the door to tackling this in such a constructive way.

The UK’s new consent-based siting process may eventually fail, but there are commitments to changing the way in which government and nuclear agencies interact with communities, to providing adequate engagement funding to support communities’ involvement, and to a more structured approach to intergenerational planning. GDFWatch strongly believes there is not only the opportunity to resolve our radwaste problem, but also support local democratic and social infrastructure reforms that empower local people’s participation and role in decision-making.

The World Nuclear Waste Report is critical of the lack of standardised comparative international data — from how waste volumes are calculated, to how waste is classified. Also, that no country has fully-costed the decommissioning of its facilities, or the management and eventual disposal of its radioactive waste. The Report also claims there is too little research into the human health impacts of radiation.

However, the Report’s view that the radioactive waste management and disposal process “must always be focused on solutions” is to be welcomed. As the author notes: We can phase out nuclear power, but we cannot phase out the nuclear waste and its eternal risks.

What we can all agree upon, is the Report’s observation that “deep geological disposal is one of the most ambitious and most difficult tasks on earth”. Delightfully understated!


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