Radioactive waste must be packaged to appropriate standards to safeguard people and the environment. The NDA recognises that the scrutiny that the independent regulators and others provide is important to give confidence that this is being achieved. We are developing an open discussion on how the UK can implement a geological disposal facility in line with Government policy.
The Environment Agency report provides a helpful input into the development of the disposal facility, identifying areas where further work is needed.
Government policy is that the decision on the length of time a geological disposal facility (or vaults within it) needs to be kept open will be made at a later date, in discussion with the independent regulators and local communities. In the meantime the planning, design and construction can be carried out in such a way that the option of retrievability is not excluded. Any implications for the packaging of wastes will be kept under review and the Environment Agency report assists in this process.
Having read the article in the Independent on Sunday 'N-waste containers likely to fail, warns ‘devastating’ report', we have contacted the Environment Agency to obtain clarification and it is clear that the article was misleading and inaccurate in a number of areas. For example, it is incorrect to state that the Environment Agency’s report was “unpublicised”. The report was distributed to Government Departments, nuclear Site Licence Companies, NGOs (e.g. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth) and NDA, and was also made available on their “Publications Catalogue” available via the home page of the Environment Agency’s website www.environment-agency.gov.uk
The Environment Agency’s report doesn’t anywhere state that “Thousands of containers…are likely to fail before being safely sealed away underground…” Section 1 of their report, gives their main concern as the potential for degradation of the waste packages once they are emplaced in a geological disposal facility. Although one option is to keep a facility open for several hundred years after emplacement of the packages, their report highlights that there are significant technical issues with extended opening.
Nowhere in the report does it say “…many containers…are made of second-rate materials…”. The stainless steels used are recognised as durable materials. The Environment Agency’s report makes the point that there are other, potentially more durable types of steels (and other materials) that should be investigated if the option of extended, retrievable, underground storage for centuries were chosen.