The appointment of two new independent Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) has been announced by Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM), the delivery body for the UK’s geological disposal facility (GDF).
At first analysis the announcement looks like a positive step by RWM, bringing much-needed expertise to the organisation, and potentially increasing RWM’s independence from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
In appointing Karen Wheeler CBE and Professor David Prout, RWM’s recently-appointed Chairman Malcolm Morley appears to be bringing in the non-technical skills, experience and perspectives that RWM has been missing but does require as the organisation transforms from an introspective academic research body into a highly-visible infrastructure, economic development and community engagement operation. These include practical experience of:
It is understood that the two appointments are additional to the current Board membership, rather than replacing Board members whose terms have come to an end. The addition of two independent NEDs now means that with Malcolm Morley there are 5 independent NEDs, two NDA-appointed Board members, and 4 RWM senior Executives. This potentially dilutes the NDA’s influence and is a step towards a) addressing concerns about conflicts of interest raised by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and others, and b) returning RWM’s independence from direct NDA control as envisaged when RWM was created in April 2014.
The appointments come at a time when RWM is preparing to relaunch the GDF siting process amid widespread stakeholder concern at its readiness and competence. They seem to be an important step in the right direction.
The RWM Board membership is now:
Malcolm Morley (Chair, independent Non-Executive Director)
Claes Thegerström (independent Non-Executive Director)
Michael Bowman (independent Non-Executive Director)
David Prout (independent Non-Executive Director)
Karen Wheeler (independent Non-Executive Director)
Andrew van der Lem (NDA Head of Government Relations) (Non-Executive)
Melanie Brownridge (NDA Head of Technology) (Non-Executive)
Bruce McKirdy (Managing Director RWM) (Executive)
Ann McCall (Geological Disposal Facility Siting and Engagement Director RWM) (Executive)
Peter Lock (Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality Director RWM) (Executive)
John Corderoy (Programme Director RWM) (Executive)
Returning from Summer Recess there is talk, apparently as much in expectation as in hope, that RWM will be freed to relaunch the GDF siting process this autumn.
BEIS are understandably non-commital about the prospect. Nobody in Whitehall can be certain of anything as we enter the potentially most chaotic six months in British Parliamentary history.
But the Brexit debate may actually help speed GDF policy decisions. If it does, and the siting process is relaunched, it then begs the question of what that launch looks like. And is RWM ready?
Only the coming weeks will tell whether the following is wishful thinking or wise insight. So let’s focus on what we know, and the options:
The hope is that with the National Policy Statement approved by Parliament, Ministers could take early decisions on the Working With Communities policy and permit RWM to at least start the long process of identifying a site.
However, if RWM is empowered to relaunch the siting process, don’t expect a flurry of initial activity. The GDF is about taking a 30-year look out into the future, at a time the country doesn’t currently have a clear 30-week outlook. It’s hard to imagine a community wanting to discuss its long-term future when the national short-term future is so uncertain.
There are also widespread concerns, as expressed in the GDFWatch stakeholder survey, that RWM is not yet ready to launch the process and engage with communities. These concerns are mostly about the scale of preparatory work envisaged under Section 7.4 of the 2014 White Paper, but which has not yet been done:
“During the period before formal discussions begin, the developer will undertake activities to explain the science and engineering of geological disposal and associated issues, within the context of Government policy, to the general public. The aim of these activities will be to share information and build a greater understanding in support of future, formal discussions with communities and, in the longer term, successful implementation.”
But if Ministers do take final policy decisions and authorise RWM to proceed with implementation this autumn, RWM’s lack of preparedness actually becomes less critical. There is a lot of foundation work to be done which could be steadily rolled-out during the months that we’re all waiting for Brexit to settle.
Can anyone imagine a community wanting to start a long, contentious process while the fabric of the nation is being shaken until a new future does become clear? So while the siting process may start this autumn, next summer is the earliest you might see any significant movement by one or more communities, after the Brexit dust and local election results are settled.
Given the continued cross-party support for the geological disposal programme, we can only hope Ministers do decide that allowing RWM to at least start the long slow siting process this autumn is in the nation’s best interests, regardless of whatever Brexit brings.
In the next few weeks GDFWatch will be unveiling a range of consultancy and other services. The services we will offer are built on the feedback we got from you in July’s stakeholder survey.
Supporting communities and local authorities: consultancy services
The GDF siting process is novel and untested. The GDFWatch team has a wealth of experience uniquely gained in the development and interpretation of that siting process.
We can help communities and local authorities get to grips with this new system, so that you are actively driving discussions with RWM, equipped to ensure your interests are not just being protected but are being advanced.
We provide access to a wide range of technical/scientific, socioeconomic, environmental, land-use planning, public consultation, community engagement, stakeholder management, and communications expertise. These skills and knowledge will not only help you set up the process in a way which works best for your community, but also offer you independent expert counsel as the process progresses.
News & Information services
Geological disposal is a global issue requiring local solutions. Access to the latest information will be vital in delivering a balanced and informed debate. GDFWatch’s current plans include:
A key and recurring theme from the stakeholder survey was the need for ‘trust’. We absolutely understand this. It’s not just enough to be ‘independent’ – we must be seen to be independent.
There will be times when funding comes from nuclear sector or other vested interests. Each case will be assessed on its own merits, and a full declaration publicly made. People can then make their own judgement on the veracity of the information or independence of any service being provided.
The income generated from the services we provide will help sustain the free independent services that will be an important resource for communities and individuals at all stages in siting process discussions.
If you would like to find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07900 243007.
The key headlines from the 2018 GDFWatch Stakeholder Survey are:
The backdrop of Brexit tempers the optimism of most opinion polls about any aspect of public policy and government at the moment, and despite these headline findings there are some real positives in the survey results. For more detail please click on each of the links below.
Local Authority ‘veto’
A more detailed analysis of the survey findings reveals the sheer scale (98%) of opposition to making local authorities responsible for GDF siting decisions – even local authorities don’t believe it’s the right way forward!
Scepticism might be expected amongst critics and those having little contact with RWM, but concern is also widespread across those who work closely with RWM about their ability to engage effectively with communities once the siting process relaunches — however, there are important ‘anomalous’ survey findings, which signpost a potentially productive way forward for RWM.
GDFWatch: User feedback
The phenomenally positive feedback is both gratifying and humbling. Users have offered their thoughts on what GDFWatch should do more or less of in the future, and we will be returning to these reader ideas later in the summer.
The number of respondents to this survey is too small to make most answers ‘statistically significant’. But given the profile of respondents, the survey does provide a powerful indicator of sentiment amongst those closest to the GDF process.
GDFWatch followers may be small in number but are big in influence. They span the most GDF-informed and interested leaders across local government, regulators, nuclear industry, NGOs, academia, trades unions, business and civil society. Success or failure of the GDF siting process will be shaped by this audience’s perception of the Government’s policy decisions and RWM’s implementation actions.
Almost 50 (30-50%) of the 100-150 active UK-based GDFWatch followers responded to the survey – that is an exceptional and significant response rate. Thank you to everyone. This level of response expresses and underlines the passion and commitment of everyone involved in the GDF process.
Click here for a summary of the responses to the survey.
GDFWatch prides itself on carrying both pro and anti-GDF views, to encourage debate. We have no intention of stopping this. However, sometimes people are “over-laissez” and “un-fair” with their facts, and in this Trumpian world there will sadly be occasions when it is necessary to point out something as “fake news” (in the sense that it is an untrue assertion, rather than being something we don’t like).
An article that appeared this week in Nation Cymru, entitled The Welsh Government is happy to make us a dumping ground for England’s nuclear waste, requires some simple fact-checking.
The article opens up with the claim that “the Welsh Government has revealed its true colours by offering to bury radioactive waste from England and Northern Ireland in Wales.” As a matter of fact, not opinion, this is simply not true.
Radioactive waste management is a devolved responsibility. The Welsh Government has accepted its responsibilities to ensure the country complies with international law and best practice by establishing an appropriate legal and regulatory framework — from a nationalist perspective you might think that placing Wales alongside sovereign states is something to be commended not condemned.
Furthermore, the Welsh Government has been explicit and consistent in saying that it is not advocating for geological disposal in Wales. Indeed, the Welsh Government has reserved itself a ‘veto’, so that even if a Welsh community was willing to host a GDF, the Senedd could still oppose the project if it considered there was a wider Welsh national interest in blocking construction of the facility.
The article later states that “they [have] not taken on board the reality that if nuclear waste it is buried deep underground the radioactivity can still escape through the water tables.” Again, this is demonstrably incorrect.
As the GDF delivery body, RWM have established criteria which need to be taken into account when assessing the geological suitability of a potential site. The criteria have been the subject of public consultation, peer review, and overseen by an independent group of international experts (whose cross-examination of RWM was held in public and live-streamed online). One of the key criteria is groundwater movement. If there are water tables or other ways in which water passing through the rock can reach the surface, the regulatory authorities will not permit a GDF to be built in such an environment.
The article also states that “anti-nuclear power campaigners have debated the whole question of storage of radioactive waste for decades and we have largely come to the conclusion that it should stay where it is, on-site at the Nuclear Power stations where it was created. That is the safest option.” It is completely true that anti-nuclear campaigners have debated this issue for many years. It is also true that the international scientific community have also examined this issue for many years, and have come to the very opposite conclusion. Even the anti-nuclear Scottish Government seeks (alone amongst every other nuclear country on Earth) ‘near surface’ — rather than deep geological — disposal as a solution.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but now more than ever we need to ensure public debate is based on fact and evidence. There will be plenty to debate once we have specific sites to consider, and the evidence may not always be clear. GDFWatch may well one day find itself on the side of Nation Cymru in many of these debates, but not today, not on the evidence.
The article ends with the comment that “nuclear power … was Humankind’s greatest technological mistake and we should always remember it.” That’s a wholly different debate from how we safely manage the radioactive waste we already have, and one on which we have no further comment.
GDFWatch has been at the forefront of recent efforts to enhance direct international collaboration between local authorities and communities.
In a time when public trust is low, communities and local politicians are more likely to get the trusted information and assurances they seek from ordinary people like themselves who have been through a similar experience. That is why building international relationships between GDF-affected communities is so important.
And that is why we were delighted when the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) generously invited the pan-European grouping of municipalities with nuclear facilities, GMF/ENWD, to attend their recent annual Stakeholder Summit.
Over 50 local politicians and local government officers from across Europe joined their UK counterparts from NuLeAF (the Local Government Association’s nuclear special interest group). They heard a variety of presentations, and participated in a number of interactive workshops, on the UK’s geological disposal programme, how UK local authorities work with central government and the NDA, and the UK’s collaborative approach with communities to delivering a local socioeconomic legacy for decommissioned nuclear sites.
Given the positive discussion, we look forward to further closer working between communities and local authorities across Europe, and beyond.
There have been series of reports in the past couple of weeks from leading institutions on the UK’s infrastructure needs, each of which is immediately relevant to the GDF programme.
The Infrastructure & Projects Association (IPA), the government body charged with ensuring high performance and best practice in the delivery of major public projects, published its Annual Report 2018, in which the risk assessment for the GDF programme was raised to an Amber/Red ‘escalated risk’: “successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.”
However the IPA does subsequently note that progress has been made since it made that assessment, saying: “The rating reflects the early stages of a long term programme that involves working in partnership with communities and which has experienced slippage due to a number of external factors. In November 2017 the IPA completed a project assessment review and reported an overall Delivery Confidence Assessment of Amber. Further progress was achieved in January 2018 with the launch of two consultations: the draft Working with Communities policy and the draft National Policy Statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure.”
This caution by the IPA is in line with the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on Sellafield, in which delays in progressing the GDF programme are identified as a major risk to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority achieving its objectives.
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has also published its first ever National Infrastructure Assessment. The Assessment does not specifically reference the GDF, but does clearly lay out the nation’s needs to plan better for its long term needs, and provides a clear narrative and framework in which the GDF can easily be seen as critical to regional development, delivering the industrial strategy, and helping to achieve a low-carbon future.
The Institute for Government (IfG) have also published a report entitled: How to be a minister: Making decisions on infrastructure. The report offers advice to Ministers, most pertinently saying:
But the advice is not just to Ministers. The IfG’s analysis should underpin the approach of the whole GDF programme.
The GDF programme has not yet risen onto the horizons of these bodies in any substantive sense, and yet it will be one of the largest, longest-living and longest-lasting infrastructure projects in this country. We will be returning to this issue in the autumn.
Repeated delay in finalising geological disposal policy is a key constraint on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) long-term strategy to clean up the environment, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). The GDF delays could be costing the UK taxpayer billions of pounds.
In its recent report, “The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: progress with reducing risk at Sellafield”, the NAO makes clear (p23, Figure 5):
The NDA needs a long-term repository for spent fuel and high activity waste to progress its decommissioning plans. However, the Department’s plans to identify a suitable location have been repeatedly delayed.
In simple terms, failure to progress the GDF means that the NDA has to plan for interim storage facilities which may not be needed, and has to potentially package radioactive waste more than once. GDF uncertainty can therefore cost taxpayers many additional, unnecessary billions of pounds. The need to maintain dozens of interim surface storage facilities, and to repackage waste if original canisters decay, also increases risk to public health. It may be a small extra risk, but it is an avoidable risk.
The NAO is the UK’s independent watchdog, reporting to Parliament on how effectively public bodies discharge their duties and use taxpayer’s money. Its recent Sellafield report does not focus on the GDF, but is a higher-level analysis of the projected costs and risks of nuclear decommissioning. The NAO note that during its lifetime the NDA has successfully managed to stabilise long-term projections for the cost of nuclear decommissioning.
Although the 2014-15 estimated costs may be double the projected costs made in 2004-05, the NAO commend the NDA for providing a clearer understanding of the scale and complexity of managing legacy radioactive wastes. Estimates for the final costs of decommissioning have now stabilised at around £120bn. However, the NAO remains concerned about the continuing wide range of estimated final costs — which is caused by the long-term horizons of the decommissioning programme and the uncertainty about any work planned beyond 10 years, of which the GDF is a key part.
The GDF is a key part because greater certainty will allow waste to be packaged in appropriate disposal canisters just once. And the amount of required interim storage for waste awaiting final disposal can also be better defined.
The NAO actually provides a (non-GDF) example of how the costs of repackaging radioactive waste can easily escalate. It cites the increased cost of having to repackage some of the Plutonium stock. The material was packaged either in canisters which are not appropriate for the new Plutonium store, or some canisters have decayed to the point the plutonium needs to be placed in new, safe canisters. The estimated cost of this process has more than doubled from £470 million to between £1bn – £1.5bn.
The increased risk of transferring radioactive waste from old to new canisters is also evident from an incident in the United States in April 2018. Waste that had been stored at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) since the 1950s and 1960s had to be placed in new canisters in preparation for their permanent disposal at WIPP. There was an unintended release of radioactivity while waste was being transferred from old to new canisters. On this occasion there were no injuries to workers or health risk to the wider public. But it underlines the benefits of creating certainty so that waste is packaged just once ready for disposal.
The NAO state that the latest earliest estimated time for the GDF to be operational is now at some point between 2043-2048. The NAO’s report implicitly makes clear that in terms of both cost and risk, the sooner Government progresses the search for a GDF, the better for all of us.
Given the Government’s recent re-commitment to the new nuclear programme, you’d think that from their perspective they’d see the sense in progressing a GDF if only to help stabilise long-term decommissioning costs. Uncertainty about long-term obligations is a significant factor undermining investor confidence — a GDF would help Ministers create a more positive nuclear investment environment.
Provided as an information, inspiration, and research resource for journalists and the wider public, our regularly updated archive of stories from around the world reflects how the media in different countries are reporting on geological disposal.
The archive is, sadly, not yet searchable. However, it covers the planet, with reports from over 50 countries, including: Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, UAE, UK, USA and Vietnam.
Currently we can only source English-language stories, but if anyone discovers a news story, especially if it’s not in English, please send to us at email@example.com
This resource will be updated regularly, and we’ll alert everyone when new content is available. At time of publishing, there’s over 1000 articles, from local and online media through to internationally-regarded titles such as Time Magazine, Forbes, Nature, NY Times, The Economist, Washington Post, etc.
You can visit the current articles page here.
For articles from January-September 2018, please visit this archive.
For articles from 2017, please click on this link to our 2017 Media Archive.
Accusations that the leading ‘left-wing’ US politician Bernie Sanders tried to ship radioactive waste from his prosperous neighbourhood to a poor Latino community in Texas are the subject of an analysis by a fact-checking/myth-busting website.
It appears true that Bernie Sanders supports the geological disposal of radioactive waste, as can be seen from what he said on the floor of Congress when legislation was being considered:
“Let me touch, for a moment, upon the environmental aspects of this issue. And let me address it from the perspective of someone who is an opponent of nuclear power, opposes the construction of nuclear power plants and if he had his way, would shut down the existing nuclear power plants as quickly and as safely as we could.
“One of the reasons that many of us oppose nuclear power plants is that when this technology was developed, there was not a lot of thought given as to how we dispose of the nuclear waste. But…the reality, as others have already pointed out, is that the waste is here. We can’t wish it away … So the real environmental issue here is not to wish it away, but to make the judgement, the important environmental judgement as to what is the safest way of disposing of the nuclear waste that has been created.
…Leaving the radioactive waste at the site where it was produced … is horrendous environmental policy… This is not a political assertion, it is a geological and environmental reality.”
However, the fact-checking website Snopes.com, concludes that the accusations being circulated by conservative media in the US, while based on objective facts, critically, leave out important context. Sanders did co-sponsor environmental legislation designed to better manage radioactive waste, but neither he nor the legislation specified any particular location. As would seem clear from his quote above, Sanders was motivated to find a location based on scientific analysis and best environmental protection practice.
The issue of radioactive waste has become a major political story since Donald Trump came to power. Perhaps surprisingly it is generally a bipartisan issue, which the majority of Americans back. You can read some more about recent events:
There are also hundreds of articles on the issue from US national, regional and local media in our international media archive.