GEOLOGICAL DUMP: “NO NEED, JUST A POLICY DESIRE”

Radiation Free Lakeland oppose the policy and push towards “Geological Disposal.”

There is and can be no SITE X …not anywhere.  The technology does not exist to contain radioactive waste deep underground.   But the UK government needs to be seen to have a “final solution” plan in order to facilitate making much more dangerous wastes with new build.

For that reason we refuse to answer “CONsultations” or join “partnerships”  that seek to co-opt those who are opposed.   Our policy is to continually voice our opposition to the whole shebang by raising awareness through actions,  campaigning and through correspondence with those in power.

There are however many ways to oppose the Geological Dump and Dr David Lowry,  of the  Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates(NWAA)-UK  and Senior international research fellow of the Institute for Resource and Security Studies has written an excellent submission.  With his kind permission we have republished it here.  Our only real quibble is the second to final paragraph “A GDF is also highly likely to deter in both economic growth- including house building and associated infrastructure- as its location, and multiple transport routes funelling into the location, would blight any local community in its vicinity ( unless it is near Sellafield).”

The area around Sellafield is admittedly already blighted by Sellafield – but the cumulative blight from a GDF would be adding vicous insult to injury.  It is rarely acknowledged that the area around Sellafield is incredibly beautiful and includes many landscape, wildlife and historic features of local and international importance.

“Written submission to the inquiry on draft National Policy Statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure

“No place to glow?’

by Dr David Lowry

14 June 2018

 

  • Q1. Are the draft National Policy Statement’s Assessment Principles and Impacts, including the requirement to take the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Habitats Regulation Assessment into account, adequate and comprehensive enough to inform development consent decisions? If not, how could they be improved?

 

The need for a GDF has never been properly demonstrated by Government or its promoters. As one (long term pro-nuclear) contributor put it at the BEIS London consultation meeting on 22 February this year put it pithily: “This is a totally unnecessary ostrich performance. There is no demonstrable need, just a policy desire.” It was suggested by the same contributor that the GDF plan was more about “retaining a productive economy for the nuclear sector”, as others aspects, such as new construction have slowed due to continuing financial and technical problems.

 

BEIS has frankly cherry-picked the recommendations made by the CORWM-1 committee, with its qualified support for a form of geologic disposal, overlooking or misrepresenting the implications of, several important recommendation for a decade. One such is Recommendation 2:

 

A robust programme of interim storage must play an integral part in the long-term management strategy. The uncertainties surrounding the implementation of geological disposal, including social and ethical concerns, lead CoRWM to recommend a continued commitment to the safe and secure management of wastes that is robust against the risk of delay or failure in the repository programme. Due regard should be paid to:

i. reviewing and ensuring security, particularly against terrorist attacks;

ii. ensuring the longevity of the stores themselves;

iii. prompt immobilisation of waste leading to passively safe waste forms;

iv. minimising the need for re-packaging of the wastes;

v. the implications for transport of wastes.

 

The current NPS for a GDF is premature, as the existing radioactive waste stocks at reactor sites will have to be stored while the heat cools and the radioactivity naturally reduces. Neither ministers nor their BEIS advisors- nor indeed their regulatory advisors from the Environment Agency,   the Office for Nuclear Regulation and CORWM-2 respectively have not paid sufficient attention to the need for much longer on site storage in their politically motivated desire to (spuriously)   demonstrate that there is an acceptable route for th e disposal of radioactive waste, something the public demand if a new   build programme of nuclear reactors is to get their collective majority support.

 

Another is recommendation 4.

“There should be a commitment to an intensified programme of research and development into the long-term safety of geological disposal aimed at reducing uncertainties at generic and site-specific levels, as well as into improved means for storing wastes in the longer term.”

 

“Managing our Radioactive Waste Safely,” CoRWM-1, July 2006. Para 26

(https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/294118/700_-

_CoRWM_July_2006_Recommendations_to_Government_pdf.pdf)

RWML has an ongoing research programme containing over 1000 unresolved technical and scientific issues, as has emerged in the long running bilateral dialogue undertaken by the Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates and RWML. But unfortunately ministers seem to be ignorant of this huge number of important matters that still need resolution, not least the corrosion of copper in anoxic environments, (http://www.mkg.se/en/the-swedish-environmental-court-s-no-to-the-final-repository-for-spent-nuclear-fuel-a-triumph-for-th & http://www.mkg.se/en/translation-into-english-of-the-swedish-environmental-court-s-opinion-on-the-final-repository-for-sp) often talking as if the technical issue have already been solved, and the only issues that now need sorting out are planning matters.(http://www.nuclearwasteadvisory.co.uk/)

There are several other ways to manage long-lived radioactive waste other than a GDF. One permanent, above ground engineered security-hardened storage, with active human stewardship. This is essentially what the Scottish Government has decided to do since 2011. (http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Environment/waste-and-pollution/Waste-1/16293/higheractivitywastepolicy). The UK and Welsh government should revisit this option, along with examining the Implementation Strategy dating from December 2016. (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0051/00511782.pdf)

Another is deep borehole disposal, which is controversial and has its detractors. Its main merit is to ensure no fissile material placed into the borehole can ever be retrieved by any malevolent actors. ( see, for example, the presentation by Fergus Gibb, emeritus professor of Petrology and Geochemistry at the University of Sheffield on behalf of Swedish nuclear waste group MKG at the Swedish Land and Environmental Court hearing the planning application for a Swedish GDF equivalent on 8 September 2017; and proceedings the first open international scientific conference on nuclear borehole waste disposal, in held in June 2016: http://energy2050.ac.uk/sheffield-holds-first-open-international-scientific-conference-on-nuclear-borehole-waste-disposal/)

 

Q2. Should any other Assessment Principle or Impact, for example local community consent, be added to the list and, if so, why?

The Working With Communities consultation document asserts at para 2.4:

“The work to take into account the views of stakeholders and the public has supported an open policy making approach throughout the development of the Working with Communities policy proposals. We are continuing this approach by seeking views through this consultation from the general public and stakeholders on the policy proposals. Once the consultation has closed, and the responses have been considered, a Government response and final policy position will be published.”

 

While public engagement is a good practice, listening to the views expressed, and altering draft policy as a result is better practice. Experience suggests this rarely happens in radioactive waste consultations, and when it does, the changes are minimal.

 

 

The major unresolved problem is the size of the radioactive waste inventory destined for the proposed GDF (or indeed GDFs) is presently unquantifiable, so sign off is being requested from Parliament and the planning process without any robust quantification.

 

A related additional problem is the GDF process assumes in all its aspects normal operation of the UK nuclear sector. It does not take into account, or present any contingency for, the possibility of very significant additional volumes of radioactive waste that could be created either in a Fukushima-scale accident, or a terrorist incident, with widespread uncontrolled dispersal of radioactivity across swathes of countryside. It could also produce very damaged fuel elements in the reactor core, as in Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.

 

Below is what the impact of the radioactive remediation of contaminated soil around Fukushima looks like in the week this information is being compiled in April 2018, seven years after the accident in Japan.

Fukushima.jpg

 

 

 

 

  • Q3 What priority should each of the Assessment Principles and Impacts have or should equal weight be given to each of them?

 

According to BEIS:

“The underground facilities will comprise a system of vaults and engineered tunnels for the disposal of waste. The underground facilities will be located at a depth of between 200 and 1,000 metres underground and will cover an area of approximately 10 to 20 square kilometres.”

 

GDF.jpg

Figure Illustrative drawing of a geological disposal facility – above and below ground

But what this picture does not paint for the local communities is what would happen if the Government of the day were to have to implement the full evacuation of the contents of the GDF from their subterranean emplacement for safety reasons, including packages containing nuclear explosive fissile materials such as plutonium?

This would amount to the operationalisation of the reversing of the emplacement decisions and retrieval of the radioactive waste (ie an R&R process), which effectively is the reassurance given to any community that volunteers to be a host: if safety procedures go identifiably wrong underground, the danger can be mitigated by removing the waste.

 

But to do so, an above ground secure and safe temporary storage facility would have to be built in preparation of such a retrieval procedure. It may not have exactly the same size above ground footprint as the subterranean tunnels, but it would be very substantially bigger than the above ground GDF workings. However, no illustration of any such above ground emergency store is ever shown in the material published by the promoters of the GDF.

Para.5.6 (p.70) of the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) report states, inter alia that:

“the draft NPS sets out how the interests of protected areas/sites… should be considered by the Secretary of State which is expected to have a positive effect on biodiversity and nature conservation.” (emphasis added)

It is impossible to see from the appraisal how the GDF development could possibly have a “positive effect” on the volunteering host community and its neigbouring communities and affected communities on the transport route.

At the technical Consultation on the NPS and associated AoS and Habitats Regulations Assessment hosted by BEIS in London on 22 March, the two lead authors of the AoS and HRA from the Wood consultancy conceded that their analysis only considered normal operations, and made no multi-scenario assessment of an accident either at the GDF site, or with the nuclear waste packages being transported to the site, and the uncontrolled radiological release that could occur. The authors were unable to explain why they did not examine radiological contamination scenarios.

They should have been modelled for the AOS and HRA documents, and still should be done following the end of this consultation, so ministers can be properly advised to the full potential implications on British habitats of such contamination scenarios.

It is impossible to know whether the conclusions of the BEIS consultants’ Appraisal of Sustainability Report are robust in all their particulars.

At the technical Consultation on the NPS and associated AoS and Habitats Regulations Assessment hosted by BEIS in London on 22 March, it was made clear that the AoS did not take into account various future climate change scenarios. As climate change is widely acknowledged as a key environmental driver, this is surely a serious fault in the AoS analysis, and should be rectified in the necessary re-analysis.

One unresolved key issue is the vast volume of rock and spoil that would need to be excavated in construction of a GDF would put considerable pressure on local habitats if disposed of ( or possibly re-used) locally. If it is transported for disposal or reuse far from the GDF site, it could have significant sustainability implications with large numbers of heavy transports involved.. If the GDF plans materialise to project and site specific stage, then a project specific HRA will be a necessary requirement, so all the local particulars can be taken into account.

 

Para. 4.4(at p.23) of the HRA states in part:

“The regulators will only accept the safety case for a GDF if it demonstrates that the facility meets their required high standards for protection of people and the environment. It is therefore reasonable to rely on the robustness of the regulatory regime to ensure effective operation of the facility. As such, the risk of incident outside normal operating conditions is considered unlikely and therefore the assessment considers the conditions in respect of the ordinary operation of a site.”

 

The faith put in the infallibility of the safety regulator is dangerously misplaced. They may be very good, but to err is human is very powerful aphorism. No doubt the Japanese equivalent document would have said much the same prior to the Fukushima accident.

 

There is a very powerful ‘Precautionary Principle’ that should govern decision makers and their advisors when planning a long term strategy to manage/ dispose of radioactive waste.

 

Accident scenarios should be included and justified in all such appraisals. To have omitted them is totally unacceptable, and this should be rectified in the necessary revisions orderd n m by ministers.

 

 

Just before the BEIS Consultations closed, a report – ‘UK Environmental Policy Post-Brexit: a risk analysis’ – was issued by Friends of the Earth on how Brexit might affect the continued implementation of environmental regulations transposed into UK law during the forty six years of UK membership of the European Communities/Union. (https://cdn.friendsoftheearth.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/Environment%20and%20Brexit%2C%20C%20Burns%20Et%20al%2C%20March%202018%20web.pdf)
The Guardian newspaper reported on its key finds thus:

Green Brexit unlikely despite government claims, report concludes

Environmental standards are at risk across the board, from wildlife and habitats to water and air quality, a risk assessment shows

The Guardian, 12 April 2018

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/12/green-brexit-unlikely-despite-government-claims-report-concludes

Government promises of a green Brexit have been cast into doubt by a new study that warns of declining protections for water, birds and habitats once Britain leaves the European Union.

The risk assessment – commissioned by Friends of the Earth – found standards are likely to weaken in every sector of environment policy, from chemicals and food safety to air pollution and climate, though the extent of deterioration will depend on the departure deal.

The environment secretary, Michael Gove – a fervent Brexiter – insists the UK will be a global “champion” of green policies after the split on 29 March 2019, but many fear a bonfire of regulations that would result in lower government spending on air and water quality, allowing businesses to cut corners. To avoid a race to the bottom, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has insisted on a “non-regression” clause in any future trade deal, tying the UK to the bloc’s high standards after Brexit.

The new study underscores the need for caution. Academics from Sheffield University, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of East Anglia assessed the post-Brexit risk of governance gaps, coordination problems between Westminster and devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and North Ireland) and the differing levels of protection between strong EU regulations and weaker international commitments by the UK.

The researchers considered 15 environment policies under five different scenarios, ranging from a Norwegian-style arrangement that would keep the UK close to the EU, to a chaotic no-deal scenario that would mark a total separation.

In every case, they predicted a “very high risk” to birds and habitats. Current EU rules – notably Natura 2000 and the habitats directive – oblige member states to set aside conservation areas for wild species. Before these directives, protected sites in the UK were being lost at a rate of 15% a year, but this declined to just 1% a year afterwards, according to the RSPB. Current farming minister George Eustice, however, has said the “spirit crushing” rules would go after Brexit. The authors of the risk assessment also cite comments by Gove and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, calling for the directives to be reformed, rescinded or weakened.

Water standards are also threatened. In compliance with EU rules, many UK rivers have recovered, serious pollution spills have gone down and natural bathing areas are cleaner. But in all but the Norwegian scenario, the study considers there to be a “high risk” to the water framework and regulations on urban wastewater and groundwater after Brexit. Even if these and other EU rules are kept on the UK statute book, the researchers say they would be “zombified” unless a mechanism is put in place to keep them in force.

Similar worries about policy gaps are evident in every other area including waste disposal, nitrates, fisheries and agriculture. The report says it is not enough to fall back on international environment commitments, which are mostly far laxer than EU standards.

The government claims its recently announced 25-year plan for the environment gives Britain some of the most progressive policies in the world, but the study’s authors say it replaces concrete regulations with vague aspirations.

“The 25-year plan was depressing and concerning,” said Prof Charlotte Burns at Sheffield University. “If the government is not tied down to strict standards, we will see waning investment in the environment and less capacity for NGOs to challenge what they do in the courts.”

She said there was still time for Brexit to produce some positive changes – particularly on fisheries and agricultural policy – but that current policies and ministerial statements gave far more cause for concern than optimism.

Friends of the Earth and other conservation groups have called on the UK government to establish a new environment watchdog, though this has yet to materialise. Campaigners also support calls for a non-regression clause.

“We were promised that Brexit wouldn’t harm our environment – but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken,” said Kierra Box of Friends of the Earth. “We hope this report will spur parliament to make much needed changes to the withdrawal bill currently in the process of going through parliament, to lock in guarantees for our environment that the report authors have found lacking so far.”

In response to the risk assessment, the Department of Environment said a “Green Brexit” would enhance environmental standards.

“As Friends of the Earth have themselves said, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has encouraged environmentally damaging methods of farming. Leaving the EU also means we can create a more sustainable fisheries policy and do much more to improve animal welfare,” a Defra spokesman said. “We will soon consult on an independent, statutory body to hold the government to account on the environment and on a new statement of environmental principles.”

This risk assessment has significant implications for the AoS and HRA documents, which assume the regulations protecting habitats will be continued without change as the UK exits the EU. Ministers have it in their powers to ensure that the Wood AoS and HRA documents will remain accurate, and the FOE consultants’ study prove a misplaced concern.

In a Parliamentary debate on the primary Brexit Bill, held in the House of Commons on 13 June 2018, two MPs in particular addressed the issue of environmental regulation post Brexit : both are members of the Environmental Audit Committee, one being its chairperson. Here is what they very sensible respectively said:

 

Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I rise to speak to my amendment (e) in lieu of Lords amendment 3. If we want world-leading environmental protections, we need a world-leading environmental watchdog. Today, we awoke to warnings that one fifth of Britain’s wild mammals, our beloved wildcats, hedgehogs and water voles, are at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years. The EU’s role in monitoring, updating and enforcing environmental law will be lost after exit day. The Environment Secretary’s proposed watchdog does not backfill those functions, and it has no teeth. It has three major gaps: an enforcement gap, a climate change gap and a citizen gap.

First, the watchdog has an enforcement gap, because it cannot start legal proceedings and issue fines, unlike the European Court of Justice, whose threat of fines is the only thing to have galvanised Government action on air quality. Amendment (c), tabled by Sir Oliver Letwin, would give it the ability to start legal proceedings against the Government but is silent on the remedy to be applied.

Secondly, there is a climate change gap. The Committee on Climate Change warned that its omission from the watchdog’s remit

“would be artificial and potentially create problems”.

The Committee on Climate Change will hold the Government to account on the Climate Change Act 2008, but there will be no enforcement of our other climate change obligations. Who monitors progress towards our legally binding targets under the EU’s renewable energy directive? What happens to our EU emissions reduction targets? Will there be a gap if we leave the EU’s emissions trading system? Amendment (c) does not address that.

Thirdly, there is a citizen gap, because the watchdog does not provide access to environmental justice for UK citizens, who at present can go to the European Commission when there is a breach of environmental law. They can petition their Member of the European Parliament, who can then ask the Commission to investigate, and ultimately, the European Court of Justice to issue fines. There is nothing in the Government’s proposals or amendment (c) on that, so there are three gaps.

I turn to the environmental principles, which have cleaned up our rivers and beaches and reduced our reliance on landfill and dirty, polluting industry over the last 40 years. Under the Bill as introduced, they would be lost after exit day. Amendment (c) puts the principles back in the Bill—although a very important one, the principle of non-regression, is missing—but the Government would only have to “have regard to” them, rather than act “in accordance with” them. That is a much less stringent legal requirement, thereby creating the legal uncertainty that the Solicitor General said at the Dispatch Box he wished to avoid. It does not mention local government and public bodies, only national Government, and it is silent on how the body’s independence from Government will be guaranteed and how it will be protected from the fate of Thomas à Becket if it is too effective, after the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government abolished the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission in 2011. Previous Governments have form on abolishing environmental watchdogs whose criticisms of Government are a little too uncomfortable and tart. We do not want to set something up only for a future Government to shut it down.

My amendment (e) in lieu would close those gaps with a watchdog with the scope, remit, powers, independence and money to do the job. It would deal with all environmental law, including climate change, and be charged with enforcing environmental principles and advising on how to embed them in policy making. It would cover all public authorities, including local councils and arm’s length bodies, and it would order public authorities to comply with the law. If they did not, it could apply for an injunction or issue fines. It would give citizens the ability to raise complaints against the Government without the expense of a judicial review, and it would respond to requests from this House to investigate failures to implement environmental law. It would have the form and funding necessary to do the job, protected from Ministers who might want to muzzle it in the future.

The Environmental Audit Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, warned a year ago that one third of EU law cannot be cut and pasted into UK law, and that we would be left with zombie legislation, no longer monitored, updated or enforced—and so it came to pass. Amendment (c) is a valiant attempt, but, after the Government’s attempts at cakeism and cherry-picking, there is a dangerous, new and highly addictive food on the parliamentary scene—fudge. We saw how long yesterday’s fudge lasted. It was delicious at the time and did the job, but was inclined to leave the children bickering on the back seat of the car about who got the biggest piece just one hour later. The Environment Secretary said that the environment needs to be protected from the “unscrupulous, unprincipled or careless”. I wonder who he meant. His proposals will not do that, and amendment (c) will not do that, so I urge the Government to accept amendment (e).

Caroline Lucas Co-Leader of the Green Party

I rise to put on the record my support for all seven still contested Lords amendments, but given that we are so short of time I will primarily focus on Lords amendment 3 and the environment. I am surprised that the Government have not accepted the amendment given that all it does is seek to give effect to the Government’s own much-vaunted environmental ambitions. In a written statement to the House in January, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explained that the Government’s 25-year environment plan will be underpinned by

“a world-leading environmental watchdog, an independent, statutory body, to hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards.”

To me, that means at least a watchdog with a bite as well as a bark, not a toothless, neutered, three-legged mutt of a watchdog that cannot even impose financial penalties, much less launch legal action. However, that was all that the Environment Secretary’s overhyped and deeply underwhelming consultation was able to offer when it was belatedly published on 10 May.

Lords amendment 3 seeks to give the watchdog at least a few teeth by giving effect to the claim repeated by Government Members that withdrawal from the EU will not lead to any dilution of environmental standards. Given, I genuinely do not understand why the Government are objecting to the Lords amendment and instead supporting amendment (a) in lieu, which represents a significant watering down of what the Lords amendment contains.

The amendment in lieu makes no provision to guarantee the independence of the environment watchdog, so we may well end up with a green poodle, not a green watchdog. We need clear guarantees that the replacements for the Commission and the European Court of Justice will be protected from Ministers’ whims. The amendment in lieu massively limits the watchdog’s remit. By deleting the overarching subsection (1) of the Lords amendment, we will lose all the essential requirement for the Government not to remove or reduce any of the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, remedies and procedures that currently contribute to the protection and, crucially, the improvement of our environment. For example, there is no explicit guarantee that we will have a freely accessible citizens’ complaint mechanism. All such things are all vital components of an effective governance system for protecting the environment. They are not optional add-ons to this lazy attempt at standing up for nature.

As I mentioned earlier, the amendment in lieu limits the scope of the watchdog to central Government, which is absurd given that local authorities are so much responsible for areas of compliance. Ministers would be compelled only to have regard to vital environmental principles, not to act in accordance with them. All those things are good reasons to have grave concerns about this weakening of Lords amendment 3 and to say to the Government that we are running out of time to get the joined-up approach to the environment that they have promised us.

In the minute I have left, I want to make a comment about the single market and customs union. It is notable that every single economic scenario that the Government have produced shows a country that will be worse off by leaving the EU. The only real protection for jobs and the economy is staying inside the single market and the customs union, which is also the only way of achieving a frictionless border in Northern Ireland. It is quite extraordinary to see the Government proudly and loudly leading the country to a poorer future, and it is almost as extraordinary to see the shadow Front-Bench team pretty much complicit in that. The Opposition’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 51 would not be accepted by the EU and they know it, so I make this plea: do not give this shambles of a Tory Government a free pass to a hard Brexit. It is not too late to reconsider and to back Lords amendment 51. History will not judge kindly those who put party politics first at this crucial moment, when it is precisely those with the least who most need their politicians to be brave.

 

(European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, 13 June 2018, Volume 642; https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-06-13/debates/B2C7C836-6CAA-4356-9AC0-F405D5E08471/EuropeanUnion(Withdrawal)Bill)

 

q.4 Are the Assessment Principles and Impacts consistent with the Industrial Strategy’s emphasis on regional growth?

Absolutely not, because a GDF would be a negative inward investment project, bringing decades of disruption and very few jobs, even fewer local ones, as the GDF would be a high tech facility requiring highly skilled and trained personnel, few of whom are perchance likely to live local to its site, unless that was adjoining Sellafield.

A GDF is also highly likely to deter n both economic growth- including house building and associated infrastructure- as its location, and multiple transport routes funelling into the location, would blight any local community in its vicinity ( unless it is near Sellafield).

And the very real problem for Government and and proposed GDF implementer (RWML) is the West Cumbrian geology near Sellafield is considered by several independent geological experts as unsuitable against he safety criteria developed by RWML: so a stark catch-22 impass faces ministers.

Dr David Lowry

 

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