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Nuclear Waste Storage Costs Escalate

leftPlans to store nuclear waste have hit a snag with the need of  another waste repository involving a massive escalation in cost.

Ministers insist they still expect only one high-level geological disposal facility (GDF) will be needed at a possible cost of �12bn but a discussion paper produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) indicates a second cannot be ruled out.


The moves come as the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) argue that more research is needed on whether different kinds of waste can be stored together.

The DECC pre-consultation discussion paper on the costs of waste disposal says "cost-modelling needs to take account of the possibility that, with a large new nuclear programme, co-disposal proves not to be feasible and another GDF would naturally mean a significantly greater total cost, although such cost would be spread over a larger nuclear programme."

The document goes on to state that the extra waste dump needs to be looked at "for cost-modelling purposes only" and should not be considered as a change in government strategy.

Companies such as EDF which are interested in building new atomic facilities have presumed they will be able to store their spent materials in a site largely paid for by the UK Government.

Being forced to build a second site - especially one dedicated to the new stations - could change the delicate economics of the industry. .

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the Government Agency charged with overseeing clean-up, backed up the DECC argument with a spokesman saying the organisation was largely concentrating on the technical needs and capabilities of one high-level repository to complement the low-level waste site at Drigg in Cumbria.

But a recent meeting of the BGS and CoRWM in Nottingham highlighted their worries about the Government being over-reliant on "inherited" research and development in an NDA strategy that presumes all kinds of waste can be put together in one waste dump.

Minutes of that BGS meeting say: "Despite assurances from the NDA that a variety of concepts are under consideration, the NDA research and development strategy appears to be centred on a single GDF that can be engineered to accommodate a multiplicity of wastes." But the minutes go on to say: "A major uncertainty is whether it will actually be technically possible to co-dispose, intermediate-level waste, high-level waste, [and] spent nuclear fuel in a single repository."

CoRWM and the BGS also go on to question the NDA's apparent assumption that work done in Sweden on such facilities can be transferred to British waste and geology.

Jean McSorley, senior adviser on the nuclear campaign at Greenpeace, said the uncertainty surrounding how waste should be dealt with meant plans for new stations should be put on hold.

"You can't proceed with any form of nuclear power without this issue being settled and that is years away," she said. "It is quite clear this consultation on fixed costs will expose the different views there are on this issue at a time when everyone is supposed to be coming together."