A very busy start to 2020, with significant news and developments across the world. Access to the original media and other source materials is available on our international media coverage page:
The formal launch of the World Nuclear Waste Report in Brussels was used by anti-nuclear activists to demand an end to any nuclear new build, on the basis that there is no viable way of disposing of radioactive waste and therefore it is folly to create more.
The report was led by German Green Party members. They successfully led the campaign to end nuclear power in their own country, and are now participating in the increasingly public debate in Germany about where to site a deep geological repository — which even the German Green’s acknowledge as the ‘least worst’ environmental solution, and an ethical issue which cannot continue to be avoided by this generation.
Croatia‘s contentious planned low-level radwaste repository close to the Bosnian border, and their protracted discussions with Slovenia about how to jointly dispose of their shared radioactive wastes, continue to generate diplomatic waves and national media coverage.
Donald Trump’s tweet did not deliver the political reaction he wanted, and left the issue of how to dispose of the US’ radioactive waste in an even deeper impasse. Communities and media across the country questioned what would now become of the waste they’re required to host locally in interim surface stores, while Congressional politicians optimistically express hope Trump’s intervention might pave the way to a new way forward. Ex-Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Allison McFarlane provides the best summary of the malaise.
In an election year, nobody thinks anything will progress politically, but pressure is building to find a solution. Nobody seems to question geological disposal, the debate being around how to identify a site, with local ‘consent’.
Holtec International’s plans to build a temporary radioactive waste facility in New Mexico are seen as one way forward, but changing pre-election political dynamics and calculations in New Mexico are making that task more difficult. Holtec also under pressure wherever they have acquired a closed nuclear power plant — people want radioactive waste removed quickly and at lower-cost, but few seem to trust Holtec’s ability to deliver.
Following a favourable local community ballot, the federal government confirms Kimba in South Australia as the location for a low-level radioactive waste repository, and quickly introduces the required legislation.
However, there is continued opposition to the plans, primarily from those not living in the area. The local Barngarla aboriginal community continue their appeal against a federal court’s ruling that the ballot was lawful. The Green Party seek to have a formal Senate inquiry into the legitimacy of the site selection process, and there are questions about whether the enabling legislation gives too much authority to Ministers to expand the site without further Parliamentary approval. A battle may have been won in terms of local support for the repository, but the war is not yet over as far as environmental opponents are concerned.
A not dissimilar situation in Canada, where the NWMO progresses its work, having reduced the number of potential host communities to a final two. However, this is against the backdrop of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s rejection of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposed repository for low-level radioactive waste, and continued cross-border pressure from US lawmakers concerned about the impact of such repositories on the Great Lakes.
As NWMO reduced the short-list to two communities, it also revealed that there were now enough landowners on-board that specific potential sites could start to be identified. This provoked a negative reaction from some residents, who were seemingly still unaware of NWMO’s work. Their protest prompted Bruce County council to defer a decision on a motion welcoming the progress in the site selection process.
OPG are going back to the drawing board re how to dispose of low-level radioactive waste, as community debate and media coverage rose about the pros and cons of hosting NWMO’s repository.
Having rejected a repository for radioactive waste, the Saugeen Nation became the first indigenous group to join a nuclear council, to promote use of (profitable) nuclear isotopes in medicine — seemingly unaware that there will be a need for a repository to dispose of such medical isotopes.
For start of 2020, rather than a quick 2-minute review of last year’s end, a very quick look ahead to major announcements and key progress expected in 2020 for geological disposal programmes around the world. Previous media coverage available on our international media coverage page:
Public debate likely to be amplified in both Germany and the United Kingdom, as each country progresses its search for a geological disposal site.
Sweden awaits a Government decision on whether to proceed with its geological repository, following the 2018 Environmental Court referral. Finland will continue constructing its repository, while France and Switzerland will continue investigations of their preferred proposed sites.
There may be further decisions on a site in the Czech Republic by the end of 2020, and the Belgian Government may eventually have to make a decision to follow expert recommendation and proceed with a repository, after years of political procrastination.
Slovenia and Croatia will continue discussing how to share a single repository, while Croatia continues to defend the construction of a low-level radioactive waste facility on the border with Bosnia.
Japan hosts the Olympics while struggling to cope with the radioactive and political fall-out from Fukushima. As the country enters the era of decommissioning, its plans for radioactive waste disposal are still evolving. No significant progress is anticipated during 2020.
After riots halted a previous site selection process, even China has acknowledged that it needs to engage communities more in discussing radioactive waste sites. How the country goes about that will be of interest to everyone.
Taiwan and South Korea will both continue to wrestle with the issue of how to dispose of radioactive waste, but no anticipated substantive activity during 2020.
The Runit Dome radioactive waste store in the Marshall Islands will continue to alarm the international community. The US Congress has demanded a rapid review of the situation. The Dome is a beacon to the risks of trying to store radioactive waste on the surface over time.
Kimba in South Australia has voted to host a low-level waste repository. The federal government is expected to make a final decision during 2020.
The National Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) has now reduced the shortlist of prospective sites for Canada’s geological repository to just two communities. Borehole investigations continue, and until they are concluded no final decision can be expected.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) both have proposals for low-level radioactive waste repositories. These are confronting the same community issues as NWMO’s deep geological repository for higher-activity wastes. Votes by indigenous communities are planned in 2020, and the results of these will impact on whether the proposed facilities can proceed or not.
In a Presidential election year, with Nevada as a key swing state, there is little reason to assume there will be any progress on Yucca mountain or any other proposed solution to the disposal of radioactive waste.
2-Minute Summary from September 2019 ….
In addition to ongoing international media coverage of Finland’s repository and the French site at Bure:
Decommissioning and geological disposal have both jumped up the agenda in Japan. The need for new interim storage facilities at Fukushima has been recognised and agreed by the local prefecture. But generally, local communities worried that such “interim” stores will become permanent. Media urging Government to take geological disposal off the policy “back burner”, as regulators suggest nuclear sector should learn from US and Europe’s decommissioning and radioactive waste management experience.
The long-term challenges of radioactive waste management and disposal are cited in several Asian countries as key shaper of public anti-nuclear sentiment, eg in Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh — in Taiwan, its an issue in the Presidential election debate.
There are also growing calls in Asian countries (eg Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia) to stop shipments of hazardous waste from richer countries, and to impose similar regulation on this waste as is applied to radioactive waste.
In the CNN ‘Climate Change’ debate between Democrat Presidential candidates, the issue of radioactive waste was a key concern amongst the anti-nuclear candidates. All favour a ‘consent-based’ approach, but each candidate means different things.
Unsurprisingly, continued congressional inertia is expected on Yucca Mountain and geological disposal until the 2020 elections. Nevada is a key ‘swing’ state, and is using that position to stymie any congressional action. Nobody’s happy with the status quo — least of all Californians, as San Onofre continues to generate lots of media coverage.
Even proposed temporary high-level radioactive waste stores, to remove waste from closed nuclear power plants pending a final repository, are now facing uphill struggles. The oil, gas & fracking industries fear such facilities could remove large areas of land available for their exploitation.
One of the company’s proposing such a temporary facility, Holtec International, has other problems, as its home state New Jersey freezes a tax cut pending investigations that Holtec has misled regulators. Holtec has plans to acquire closed nuclear power plants, to speed decommissioning and removal of radwaste, but there are continued protests about the sale of Oyster Creek and Pilgrim power plants to Holtec.
While no money for Yucca is expected before 2020 elections, the Senate has approved a $400m budget for WIPP — which anticipates a 50% increase in shipments by 2023.
Rest of the World
Continued international concerns about a leaking US interim surface store in the Marshall Islands, with radioactivity levels “higher than Chernobyl”.
Local community ballot in Australia on hosting a low-level radioactive waste facility is to proceed, but local indigenous peoples and environmentalists have not given up on their attempts to halt the process.
The Government Minister responsible says the difficulties in finding a radioactive waste facility means Australia should tackle that problem before committing further to nuclear.
Protests in Canada against proposed low-level waste repository by the Ottawa River.
On 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, signatory nations re-commit to not disposing of radioactive waste on the continent.
2-Minute Summary from July 2019 ….
Most progress continues to be made in Europe. On top of the on-going formal public debates and consultations in France and Germany:
IAEA says Norway could do more to strengthen its radioactive waste management procedures, while Italy is censured by European Court of Justice for not complying with requirement to develop a radioactive waste management plan.
Political stalemate reigns supreme in the US, as different tiers of government actively thwart one another, leaving those who live closest to and most affected by radioactive waste frustrated at the inaction.
Everyone agrees a permanent repository is required, but there’s no apparent majority for any of the options. The US Senate (which previously blocked Yucca funding) has now proposed funding in their draft 2020 budget. The US House of Representatives (which previously and overwhelmingly backed Yucca funding) has proposed a 2020 budget without any funding for Yucca. Nevada’s position as a ‘swing state’ now means Democrats reluctant to rock the boat there.
Several, all bipartisan, bills have been submitted in both Houses of Congress which side-step but don’t address Yucca. The bills variably are focused on either compensating communities where radioactive waste is being stored indefinitely in interim surface facilities, allowing long-term temporary storage facilities for waste designated for disposal, or creating a more consent-based site search process.
Political commentators observe this may become an electoral problem for the Democrats. Many elected representatives have nuclear facilities in their own constituencies, and local voters want it removed — so local voters may not be forgiving if their representative defies their wishes while playing a DC ‘game of stalemate’.
But as Washington fiddles, the real world moves on. A late-breaking scandal as the Department of Energy admits low-level radioactive waste may have been shipped to Nevada in error, for many years. Calls for Rick Perry’s resignation, and a political gift to Nevada’s politicians. The political fall-out may take several weeks to settle.
In New Mexico, newly-elected State officials, including the Governor and State Land Commissioner, now oppose Holtec International’s proposed temporary radioactive waste facility. The communities hosting the planned facility continue to vote in favour, but now feel they are being stymied by State-level actors.
A similar State versus Local confrontation in Washington state, where there is strong local support for the proposed federal reclassification of radioactive wastes, but opposition from the Governor. The proposed reclassification of wastes, which brings the US in line with international standards, would allow more low-level waste to be disposed of more quickly and more cheaply than sending for geological disposal. The proposal is overwhelmingly supported by local government bodies, communities and local media (ie those most affected and informed), but opposed by more remote agencies (ie those least affected on a daily basis).
Protests in India against a planned interim surface storage facility at the new nuclear power plant — with campaigners claiming geological disposal is safer than surface storage.
Japan secures support at G20 Summit for greater international co-operation on geological disposal. A conference is expected, but still no news on the when, where and what will be on the agenda.
President of the Marshall Islands conducts a series of interviews with international media outlets to express her concern after the UN Secretary General’s warning about a ‘leaking’ Cold war-era surface storage facility.
Concerns over whether Israel is properly managing its radioactive waste, following a Report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While Provinces in Iraq have refused to host new radioactive waste storage facilities.
Late-breaking news, as a federal court rules against legal bid by an aboriginal group to block a local ballot on whether Kimba community should host a low-level waste repository.
Borehole-drilling programme being expanded as geological investigations commence in the communities still in consideration to host a deep geological repository.
The issue of radioactive waste is a feature of a wider public debate about Canada’s potential use of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Chiefs of the Anishinabek Nation vote against SMRs, concerned that Canada could become the world’s dumping ground for radioactive waste.
2-Minute Summary from May 2019 ….
A quick 2-minute read, summarising major announcements and key progress during May from geological disposal programmes around the world – details on our international media coverage page:
France, Germany and the UK are all conducting some form of public dialogue programme to engage with the wider public. There has been significant media coverage of the formal French national debate, but we’ve seen little media or English-language coverage from Germany (which suggests a lower-level public profile). The UK’s siting process has been slowed by the wider political instability and fall-out from Brexit, local government elections and the European elections – unsurprisingly, local politicians not rushing to put a “nuclear waste dump” on the public agenda when they’re fighting for their most basic political survival.
Slovakia and Czech Republic speak publicly about their attempts and preference to have a shared geological repository. Ukraine receives EU, US and NATO funding & support to help speed disposal and safe management of Soviet-era radioactive waste in the troubled region.
A significant milestone achieved in the development of geological disposal repositories, as Finland ‘plugs’ (ie seals off) an underground test/demonstration tunnel. While in Sweden, the latest poll shows 80% of local residents support the planned repository in Osthammar.
Switzerland starts its borehole drilling investigations. Austria seeks to stop any nuclear facilities being built close to its borders in neighbouring countries.
Yucca Mountain still a political football, with no clear outcome in sight. Republican majority in Senate now want to progress funding for Yucca, having previously blocked funding to help protect a Republican Senator facing re-election in Nevada. The Democrats won that election, and now are blocking funding because Nevada has become a key swing-state in the Democratic Presidential candidate race and subsequent 2020 elections.
In the US House of Representatives, which in recent years has been overwhelmingly in favour of funding Yucca, the Democratic Party leadership are showing no enthusiasm for opening the Yucca Mountain can of worms, and have not proposed any funding. However, pressure growing to sort out the radioactive waste destined for disposal which remains at multiple surface locations across the country.
Government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) produces several reports, effectively saying it is becoming more expensive to American taxpayers to do nothing than build a repository, and that a clear disposal strategy urgently required.
The local community hosting Yucca Mountain have written to Congress, urging they proceed with funding. Current best bet, is that US Congress may stop short of funding Yucca but will find a compromise around permitting the type of interim consolidated storage facilities being proposed in New Mexico and West Texas, with some form of review around a ‘consent-based’ approach.
Japan attempting to make geological disposal an issue of global debate, like climate change, by trying to place the matter on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 debate.
The future of nuclear power, and a new referendum on radioactive waste disposal, still a matter of contention and demonstration in Taiwan. TaiPower’s previous “deceit” over finding a site to store radioactive waste has undermined public trust in the organisation, allegedly making it easier for the company to become a political football between competing political parties.
Substantial and widespread global media interest in a South Pacific interim surface storage facility which is allegedly leaking radiation into the local environment.
The National Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) will shortly be starting initial investigative borehole drilling in southern Ontario, and have embarked on an information campaign to explain this next stage in the search for a suitable site for their deep geological repository for higher-activity waste.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation are expected to hold a vote before the end of 2019 on whether they support Ontario Power Generation (OPG) plans for a repository for low-level radioactive waste.
The surprise re-election of the federal government, suggests that the Australians will press ahead with their plans for a low-level waste repository in South Australia. However, the issue is still before the courts, as some aboriginal groups complain they have not been properly consulted. An Andyamathanha woman has been appointed as the local Community Liaison Officer for the planned repository.
Rwanda trains staff in radioactive waste management and signs a nuclear co-operation agreement with Morocco. However, there continues to be a debate in Africa over waste from electronic equipment, including solar panels. There are few effective controls over exporting this waste from wealthier nations (unlike radioactive waste), and so Africa is becoming the dumping ground for products with highly-toxic wastes that do not decay and are not properly disposed of.