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, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
This resource will be updated regularly, and we’ll alert everyone when new content is available. At time of publishing, there’s about 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-June 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.
The failure of nuclear experts and ordinary people to listen to and understand each other is the biggest barrier to solving the world’s radioactive waste problem. That’s an inescapable conclusion from a thought-provoking review of HBO’s new documentary Atomic Homefront in the latest edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.
The public lack trust in the nuclear sector. The sector seems to have an almost institutionalised inability to grasp the social, political and non-technical dimensions of public concern. This means dialogue regularly ends up like a CNN panel discussion with opposing views talking over each other and at cross purposes. A lot of energy and effort to go nowhere, and everyone repeatedly re-trenching to their respective camps, confused and exacerbated.
As Britain and other countries agonisingly address how to permanently dispose of their radioactive waste, resolving this failure of dialogue becomes of paramount importance. The onus is on the nuclear and public sectors to creatively and radically review how they interact with the public. To establish the common ground required to advance this debate.
In his very readable article, Francois Diaz-Maurin of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University, describes:
Both sides of the debate in the Atomic Homefront film make pertinent and valid points, but they also both perpetuate unfounded myths and misconceptions. Regardless of your thoughts on the film, it does provide (in conjunction with Diaz-Maurin’s analysis) a helpful starting point in identifying how we can better approach and manage the multinational-but-local discussion around safe management of radioactive waste and its permanent disposal.
Three quarters of local government leaders do not think the Government will reshape regional regeneration funds after Brexit, according to a new report.
PwC’s annual The Local State We’re In survey of council chief executives, finance directors and leaders shows 74% are not confident central government will engage with local government in reshaping regional investment and regeneration funds after Britain leaves the EU.
The scale of concern and difficulties facing local authorities indicates that the significant investment funds available through the GDF siting process are potentially of interest not just to disadvantaged communities, but will attract the attention of areas from all parts of the country.
Almost three quarters (72%) of those surveyed said a lack of investment in infrastructure was a key barrier to place-based growth in their area, while 61% identified a lack of influence over skills and 60% said a lack of affordable or suitable housing was also holding back growth.
Survey publisher, PwC’s head of local government Jonathan House, said: “While local councils have done well against an ongoing course of challenges, the cliff edge for some is getting ever closer. With another Spending Review next year, as well as the UK’s formal exit from the EU, the landscape will become incredibly tough – the resilience they have shown so far will be tested to the max.”
Anyone involved in the GDF siting process needs to be aware of sentiment and issues within the local authority sector. Other relevant key findings from the PwC survey include:
There is overwhelming local support for Sweden’s planned geological disposal facility (GDF). Three out of four residents in the host community of Östhammar are in favour of the project.
The level of local public support for the project was revealed in the annual opinion poll conducted in the Östhammar Municipality on behalf of the Swedish GDF delivery body, SKB.
SKB measures public opinion in the community every year. It is the kind of on-going measurement of local opinion that will be required in the UK when communities here are actively engaged in discussions about hosting a GDF.
In the Swedish poll, based on 800 telephone interviews, 77 percent of the respondents in Östhammar said that they were “completely in favour” or “in favour” of plans to build the final repository for radioactive waste in their community. SKB’s CEO Eva Halldén also pointed out the sustained level of support, saying: “What is particularly gratifying is that the high figures are so stable over time.”
The opinion poll also found a high level of confidence in SKB, with 76 percent of local respondents stating that they have a “very high” or “rather high” level of confidence in the company.
Such weight of local community support is despite the uncertainty created by Sweden’s Environmental Court decision earlier this year, when the Court expressed concerns about the long-term safety of the copper canisters in which waste is placed.
The regulatory approval and licensing process continues to move forward, and the Swedish Government has now formally asked SKB to respond, by early 2019, to questions raised by the Environmental Court.
But before the Swedish Government comes to a decision, local people will be consulted in a referendum. This is because the community has the right of veto on whether to proceed or not — very similar to the “Test of Public Support” proposed in the UK.