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Old 04-01-13, 06:32   #1
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Important Time to Solve this Toughest Nuclear Problem

Voice of Business: Time to Solve this Toughest Nuclear Problem

Nuclear power has always been a controversial issue.

EDF Energy’s chief executive has acknowledged for the first time that its decision on building Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation may be delayed until 2013. Photo: Getty Images

Telegraph UK, 3 Jan 2013

But whatever view you take about the future role of nuclear energy, successive governments have rightly tried to establish a permanent solution for the radioactive waste generated by our military and existing civil nuclear programmes.

These plans are now at a critical stage of development.

My belief is that we must not continue to pass the buck. We have a choice.

We can either continue to store this old waste above ground indefinitely and leave the final solution for future generations to resolve, or we can tackle this once and for all with a permanent geological disposal facility.

The latter course is the only responsible way to proceed.

A disposal facility is currently seen as the preferred option for waste management by the vast majority of countries in the world with nuclear power, not just the UK.

The approach we have adopted to siting such a facility has been based on the voluntary principle and partnership.

It goes without saying that while any community can volunteer to host such a facility, the geological area must be suitable.

In January 2013, three Cumbrian councils are due to make a decision on whether to allow investigations to establish if any local sites may be potentially suitable for such a repository.

Their decision is not about whether to have a repository or not. Only once the investigatory work is completed, more than a decade from now, would there be enough information to enable a decision on whether or not to host the facility.

One fact is indisputable. The whole of the UK has benefited from the cheap, reliable and carbon-free energy produced by the nuclear industry for the past 50 years and will continue to do so in the future.

It is only right, therefore, that those communities hosting nuclear facilities and the by-products of the industry are recognised for providing such a vital service and compensated accordingly.

The community benefits package relating to a geological facility would reflect this. In addition, construction and operation of the geological disposal facility would create hundreds of skilled jobs for the long term.

Moreover, building a geological disposal facility would develop local skills, expertise and technologies and would help west Cumbria to become a centre of nuclear excellence.

Radioactive waste is already stored in the county and the nuclear industry, tourism and non-nuclear industries have successfully developed side by side for many decades.

Putting the waste into a geological disposal facility would make it even safer and more secure.

As a pioneer in nuclear technology, the UK created a wide range of experimental reactors that pushed forward the bounds of technology at the time.

However, during the Cold War, defence was the priority and little or no thought was given as to how to decommission these facilities at the end of their life.

The difficult and expensive task of cleaning up this legacy waste is one reason why operators of new nuclear power stations will, in future, be required to pay for decommissioning and waste management.

This is entirely fair and reasonable.

Compared with our historic waste, the volume of waste from new nuclear will be small.

Fifty years of nuclear power in the UK has produced 290,000 cubic metres of waste. The planned 16 gigawatt programme of new nuclear will increase the UK’s total nuclear waste by just 8pc.

Furthermore, Britain’s experience to date in nuclear decommissioning means we have some of the world’s most highly skilled and respected professionals in this field, currently generating more than £1bn of business per annum for the UK economy.

But we need now to maintain the momentum behind finding a long-term solution to the storage of nuclear waste. Finding such a solution will require both the consent of a local community and scientific evidence on suitability.

If either condition is not met, the process cannot go ahead. So there should be no room for scaremongering.

Anyone concerned, for example about the geology in Cumbria, should surely see the benefit of establishing the facts and support further work to establish whether suitable local conditions exist to support a geological depository.

Radioactive waste has been produced in the UK since the 1940s and we need to implement a long-term solution to the legacy waste with or without a new build programme.

Political decisions should be taken based on facts, not myths, and the scientific research into whether Cumbria’s geology is or is not suitable should continue.

Establishing the facts is in the best interests of both the local community and the nation as a whole. To act otherwise would be an injustice to the majority of local people who do support the project, as well as to future generations.

Lord Hutton is chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, the trade body that represents Britain’s civil nuclear industry.

He was formerly the Secretary of State for Defence in the last UK Labour government.


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