To the Whitehaven News from Cumbria Trust Director Colin Wales

Whitehaven News, 10 September 2015

SIR – It was interesting to hear Professor Cherry Tweed (Chief Scientific Advisor to the NDA) on BBC Radio Cumbria explaining to the interviewer that, without wanting to pre-empt the national geological screening exercise, that “some parts of Cumbria would be suitable for a Geological Nuclear Waste Repository” and then to set that in the context of “volunteerism”.

During the last failed attempt the MRWS geologist Dr Dearlove, was honest enough to explain which parts of West Cumbria might be suitable the Solway Plain and the Ennerdale and Eskdale granites – but even he thought their prospects were low.

Set in the context of “volunteerism” we all know what the communities in the Solway and Ennerdale thought of that prospect.

I could be wrong, in that new areas which Dr Dearlove didn’t think worth exploring are now deemed to be suitable.

Who knows? If the areas to which Cherry Tweed refers to are the same as those identified by Dr Dearlove it is to be hoped the notion of what constitutes a community isn’t the ability for your neighbour to volunteer the land you live on.

Finding a politically, environmentally and ethical solution for radioactive waste going forward isn’t hard, unless of course you are wedded to the principle of burying nuclear waste in West Cumbria with its known complex geology. The IAEA guidelines are for simple and predictable geology.

The NIREX inspector said in the summing up of his report after the failed £400m Longlands Farm debacle “… it would be better to look elsewhere”.

The geology hasn’t changed! Internationally the only geological disposal facility that used to accept waste was the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at Carlsbad in New Mexico.

That facility is now closed for at least three years due to an accident when a canister burst and leaked radiation into the atmosphere.

The reason given for the burst canister was that it, and presumably a few hundred more still at risk of bursting, were filled with the wrong type of “cat litter” – human error, not poor geology.

To arrive at a policy that genuinely encompasses “volunteerism” it is necessary to put safety first and that isn’t difficult.

It means finding simple and predictable geology so that we have the knowledge going forward that if nuclear waste is to be buried then only those areas with known, simple and predictable geology are allowed to volunteer.

Now at this point you might think we are stuck between a rock and a hard place – geological puns excluded – with Copeland shouldering the risk and no solution in sight.

Sellafield’s risk to Copeland and beyond must be reduced to one which the everybody accepts is acceptable and while the NDA are working hard to achieve that objective but many argue that surface stores exposed to the elements and, by implication, not out of harms way from those who would seek to us harm are far from an ideal solution.

I take the same view. As a part of reducing the “intolerable risk”Copeland finds itself under, consideration should be given to a near surface monitorable and retrievable store which isolates the waste for at least 100 years (The Dutch position) and coupled to that a community compensation package for doing so while simultaneously progressing the
search for a GDF in known simple predictable geology elsewhere.

But you cannot do that until society begins to engage with and trust the industry going forward.

To take that crucial step the process of radioactive waste management has to be totally transparent going forward. It is disheartening, therefore, to receive pages of redacted material in response to FOI questions on safety.

In parallel, scientific and technological effort should be directed towards helping those scientists and engineers whose research is focused towards reprocessing waste with the intent of using it subsequently as fuel in fuel cycles where waste is short lived, then we will have much less of it to bury, if indeed any at all.

Colin Wales