Every society generating electricity through nuclear power shares the same issue of how to safely manage and permanently dispose of those wastes which remain highly radioactive over a long period of time. Over the past 30 years there has been significant research and analysis across the world on how best to approach and resolve this issue. A common consensus has emerged in science that geological disposal is the safest known way to manage these wastes but the issue remains controversial and recent local government decisions suggest that the public remain unconvinced by reassurances about safety.
In the UK, an independent committee of experts, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), reviewed the evidence and options and recommended in 2006 that the UK adopt geological disposal. Successive Governments of all Parties have re-affirmed the policy, and a new White Paper was published last summer setting out a revised process for selecting a site for a geological disposal facility (GDF) based on the continuing principle of ‘volunteerism’ – ie a GDF cannot be imposed on a community, but that the community hosting a GDF must be a willing partner.
But will the UK public volunteer to have nuclear waste buried underneath them? As a new organisation called Radioactive Waste Management prepares to launch a public information campaign this autumn the SMC held a background briefing with two of their leading scientists and heard about the science and technology underpinning the case for geological disposal, and how the latest search for a site is progressing.
The experts came to answer questions such as:
Prof. Cherry Tweed, Chief Scientific Adviser, Radioactive Waste Management
Mr Alun Ellis, Science & Technology Director, Radioactive Waste Management