Wednesday, January 30, 2013

D-Day on nuclear waste

Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria councils' cabinets vote today on whether the "MRWS" (Managing Radioactive Waste Safely) process should proceed to stage four, which is a five year desk-based study to see whether there is an area of suitable geology in a district which votes to proceed.

* Voting to proceed to stage four is not an irrevocable commitment - we could still back out at any time up to the point when construction is due to start

* Stage four will not mean intrusive large-scale excavations - it is a desk based study.

* A number of people claim to know whether the geology is suitable. The simple fact is that not enough work has been done to allow either side of the argument to know this for certain, and the whole point of stage four is to start investigating the facts so that we can find out.

* Those districts which are not taking part will not be affected in any way, shape or form.

Suggestions that people in Eden, South Lakes, Carlisle or Barrow have anything to worry about are complete, 100% nonsense. We already have the waste here in Cumbria, the question is whether we can find a better, safer, and more environmentally friendly solution that where it is at the moment.

Lynn Berger, who runs the Woolpack Inn near Boot in the Eskdale Valley, has made the same point to the BBC that another person highly involved in tourism made to me in a private conversation at the weekend: Lynn is more concerned about the effect of "scaremongering" on tourism than the facility itself.

"It's not going to make any difference to us from a radiation point of view," she said.

"And, if anything, everything is so much more controlled because it [Sellafield] is there. The house isn't going to fall down, we're not going to bash a hole in the cellar wall and find the beer turns green."

In May 2012 - the results of an Ipsos Mori poll suggested a majority is in favour of considering hosting the facility. In Copeland, which covers Sellafield, 68% of people backed entering formal talks with government. Across Cumbria as a whole, 53% were in favour and 33% opposed.

Unfortunately however those who are opposed have been much more vocal than supporters accross the county as a whole. There has been a massive scaremongering campaign and a huge amount of pressure has been brought to bear on councillors to try to block the MRWS process.

I believe in democracy, not because it is perfect but because in the words of Winston Churchill, it is the worst system there is "except for all the others." That's why I support a referendum in the district concerned before any repository goes ahead, though that is years down the line yet.

The nuclear waste is not going away and killing the MRWS process will not resolve the issue. I hope Copeland votes to proceed to stage four today, and I hope the county council votes to work with those parts of the county which vote to proceed - Copeland, Allerdale, both, or neither, but it will not include Carlisle, Barrow, Eden or South Lakes - and that they should be allowed to do so.


Jim said...

I do really have too much of an interest to comment on where it should go, or if it should be built in a certain area or even built at all or not.

But I do think your line
"The nuclear waste is not going away and killing the MRWS process will not resolve the issue." is the key point here.

There is no "do nothing" option, Like it or not, the waste is currently stored above ground, in well designed storage facilities, but its there. Its not going to disappear, and it will not go away. The current storage facilities are very good, but they do have a life, they may well exceed their proposed lifetimes, but they will not last forever. The waste (especially the High level waste) will outlast the life of its current storage facility.

I am a huge believer in democracy, and I think all the people (rather than a select few) have a right to vote on this issue, its just there really is no "do nothing" option as I say, and that is something people need to be informed of and to consider.

I'm not saying people must agree to the new underground storage facility, as I said, that is for them to decide. Just they need to be aware that it must go somewhere.

It may be some would rather spend billions (if we can find billions) and blast it in rockets to the sun (superman IV style). That was supposed to be an amusing and extreme example, but it was just to re-enforce the basic fact that if the underground storage is rejected then another method of long term storage/disposal MUST be identified.

Colin Megson said...

It beggars belief that there does not seem to be a single politician aware of the PRISM reactor, which is sure to be approved within months, for burning our plutonium stockpile. This reactor will not only solve the world's largest proliferation risk within 5 years, but it will carry on generating enough electricity to supply 750,000 people for a further 50 or 60 years.

The technology is here and now! GE Hitachi have it designed and ready for modular factory-build. It could be licensed here in 5 years, then manufactured, built and commissioned 5 years after that.

All of Sellafield's and the rest of the UK's energy resource (some people unknowingly or duplicitously call it nuclear waste) can be used as fuel in these reactors and we have enough of it to power the UK for 500 years. The minuscule amount of left-over waste from these reactors, decays to background radiation levels in 300 years - capable of being easily, cheaply and safely stored.

PRISM reactors are hundreds of times safer than the reactors now being planned for our 16 GW of 'New Nuclear. They are inherently safe - they shut down according to the laws of physics, without human intervention, even under accident conditions such as those seen at Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

All we need is a visionary Prime Minister and we could lead the world into the inevitable era of the fast breeder reactor. This decision is as near a no-brainer as any political decision could ever be.

It's about time the media fulfilled its public duty by giving as much air-time or space to PRISM reactors as it does to anti-nuclear propaganda, yesterday's nuclear technology, in the form of PWR/BWR reactors and ineffectual renewables. There's plenty of information at "prisms to power the uk"

Chris Whiteside said...

Jim - I agree

Colin - you are right to emphasise that the tons of plutonium we already have could and almost certainly should be used as part of the solution to our energy problems rather than just as a waste product.

Successive governments have taken a "one step at a time" approach e.g. to get agreement on the principle of nuclear new build before going for re-use of spent fuel. Perhaps there might be advantages in a more holistic approach.

Jim said...

Colin - I totally agree with you on the fuel. But the fact is that its not all fuel, some is and can only be called waste. For example the vitrified containers of HAL in VPS. That is high level nuclear waste, by far the most dangerous stuff there is. Plutonium is not waste I quite agree, but a vitrified HAL container is.

As I said, something must be done with it as VPS will not last forever.

Anonymous said...

Don't believe everything you read about these PRISM reactors, most of it is hype. Yes they will burn the weapons grade plutonium stockpile, but what do you end up with dirty plutonium. As for them being safe, in theory maybe provided you don’t get a coolant leak, but unlike a nice inert coolant like say carbon dioxide, sodium has some rather unpleasant properties. They all have their problems.