CoRWM returns for site selection process

29 October 2007

The UK's Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has been reformed to scrutinise plans for the long-term management of the country's radioactive wastes.

The committee, to be chaired by Robert Pickard, is composed of 12 experts from various areas of geoscience, radiological protection, environmental science & law, strategy & local planning and the immobilization of radioactive wastes. Some have direct experience in the nuclear power, research or defence. The appointments are in contrast to the previous version of the committee whose remit was to undertake a study of the public's attitudes to radioactive waste management options.

The new CoRWM will examine plans put forward by the UK government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to develop a long-term underground storage facility for intermediate- and high-level radioactive wastes as well as plans to store the materials above ground until the ultimate facility is ready. That strategy was recommended to government by the original CoRWM committee in 2006.

Britain faces a particularly difficult challenge in radioactive waste management because of the country's history as a pioneer of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. This has resulted in a large variety of wastes with different radiological properties being held in a variety of packages at sites across the country. Some of these have been in 'temporary' storage for over 50 years.

The eventual long-term storage facility would be an automated vault approximately 500 m underground in a solid a crystalline bedrock such as granite. It is thought that such a facility would cost about £2 billion ($4 billion) to build, while emplacing the waste and monitoring it to ensure safety could cost another £10 billion ($20 billion) over many, many years. Observers suggest 2040 as a realistic date for a store to begin operation.

On 2 November the UK government's consultation on ways to take the process further will end. After examining submissions the NDA and the government are to announce a process of site selection. Officials expect communities with an interest in hosting the facility to come forward. Each would then take part in a step-wise procedure to assess each in detail.

Further information

Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM)

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: British wastes headed underground
WNN: Consultation on waste site selection begins