At a meeting in Bramfield village hall, ten days ago, the EdF representative addressing the audience stated that there is now a solution to nuclear waste. That is a seriously over-stated bit of propaganda from the nuclear industry and a deliberate twist on the actual situation, no doubt designed to convince people that they can stop worrying about the management of nuclear waste. Sadly, the statement is not borne out by the facts. No matter how many times something is repeated, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. Every agency associated with the nuclear industry, from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to the Environment Agency, employs this tactic of saying something over and over again in the hope that it will cease to be something over which people express concern.

They do so despite being fully aware that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), of which I was a member between 2003 and 2007, recommended disposal as the ‘least worst option’ for the management of radioactive waste rather than the ‘best’ option and only did so given ‘the current state of knowledge’. It assumed that the state of knowledge would progress to a more sophisticated solution than one which involves sticking the waste in a hole in the ground. Moreover, CoRWM conditioned its recommendation particularly around the generation of new nuclear waste which it explicitly excluded from its recommendations as the creation of a new inventory of hotter and more radioactive waste throws up a different set of problems – technical, scientific, moral, environmental and societal – than those associated with the management of a waste inventory which already exists.

After the withdrawal of the Cumbria County Council in 2013 from the attempt to use the Copeland site, the revised ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely’ programme has taken six years to reach the point where Radioactive Waste Management Ltd (RWM) is now actively seeking a volunteer community. At present, there are no takers and therefore there is no site and no idea of the transport requirements to and from that site, nor the configuration, depth or other characteristics of a potential site; there is contention over the adequacy of the cladding for the thousands of spent fuel rods which will need to be disposed of, doubt about the confidence we can place on the long term safety of a repository, no final determination of the sub-strata in which the repository should be built and, crucially, many critical scientific and technical issues that RWM are still trying to resolve which may yet demonstrate that disposal is unsafe. The industry tells people there is a solution to nuclear waste management: that is not true and its representatives should have the courage to admit that to audiences by at least using a conditional ‘potential’ or ‘possible’ adjective when mentioning ‘solution’.

At the Bramfield meeting, I was told that I have a ‘philosophical difference’ of view about these matters. The difference is not philosophical but factual and the fact is that we do not have a solution to radioactive waste management. What we have is a theoretical solution which has a long way to go before it can be called safe and secure. The people of east Suffolk already live with a few hundred tonnes of lethal spent PWR fuel and an unimaginable amount of resulting radioactivity. Sizewell C and D, should they ever be built, will add a massive additional burden to that already bourn by this community. That burden could be shouldered for many decades or even centuries into the future by generations who will have derived no putative benefits from the existence of Sizewell A, B, C or D. Representatives of a responsible developer have an obligation to be honest with people about the nature and the consequences of the additional risks they wish to foist on the people of Suffolk.


Pete Wilkinson