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This article looks at the ethical quandaries, and their social and political context, which emerge as a result of international nuclear waste substitution. In particular it addresses the dilemmas inherent within the proposed return of nuclear waste owned by Japanese nuclear companies and currently stored in the United Kingdom. The UK company responsible for this waste, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), wish to substitute this high volume intermediate-level Japanese-owned radioactive waste for a much lower volume of much more highly radioactive waste. Special focus is given to ethical problems that they, and the UK government, have not wished to address as they move forward with waste substitution. The conclusion is that waste substitution can only be considered an ethical practice if a set of moderating conditions are observed by all parties. These conditions are listed and, as of yet, they are not being observed.
Abstract This article looks at the ethical quandaries, and their social and
political context, which emerge as a result of international nuclear waste
substitution. In particular it addresses the dilemmas inherent within the pro-
posed return of nuclear waste owned by Japanese nuclear companies and
currently stored in the United Kingdom. The UK company responsible for
this waste, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), wish to substitute this high
volume intermediate-level Japanese-owned radioactive waste for a much
lower volume of much more highly radioactive waste. Special focus is given to
ethical problems that they, and the UK government, have not wished to
address as they move forward with waste substitution. The conclusion is that
waste substitution can only be considered an ethical practice if a set of
moderating conditions are observed by all parties. These conditions are listed
and, as of yet, they are not being observed.
Keywords Nuclear ÆWaste ÆUK ÆJapan ÆBNFL ÆSubstitution
Introduction: what is waste substitution?
Back in the days of haughty nuclear optimism, the 1950s and 60s, the issue of
nuclear waste was largely ignored. Meanwhile the nuclear cycle was becoming
international. Uranium rich nations supplied nuclear operating nations with
raw materials. Nuclear operating nations supplied nuclear ‘wanna-be’ nations
A. Marshall (&)
Sustaining Gondwana Initiative, Department of Environmental Biology and Alcoa Research
Centre for Stronger Communities, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U9187, Perth,
WA 6845, Australia
Sci Eng Ethics (2007) 13:83–98
DOI 10.1007/s11948-006-0005-z
Questioning nuclear waste substitution: a case study
Alan Marshall
Received: 4 July 2005 / Accepted: 10 November 2006 /
Published online: 24 January 2007
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007
with reactor technology, and would-be nuclear military nations were trying to
beg, borrow and steel as much technology and materials as they could from
Another international nuclear trade, nuclear reprocessing is where the
story begins with regards to waste substitution. Reprocessing is the technical
and chemical process whereby spent fuel is separated from useful fuel, the
latter of which can, if necessary, be used again in nuclear reactors. Originally,
the reprocessing process was a military technology used to recover plutonium
for use in nuclear weapons [16].
By agreement between the UK and Japan, the spent fuel to be reprocessed
and the waste produced by reprocessing is still the property of the customer,
i.e. the Japanese nuclear companies such as JNFL (Japan Nuclear Fuel
Limited) and Tokyo Electric and Kansai Electric. However, many repro-
cessing customer nations, in agreement with the operator nations, have pu-
shed for terms of operation whereby the latter will accept a certain specified
substituted waste for the actual waste that they own. For example, in the case
that this article addresses, Japan is a customer nation that has sent spent fuel
to the UK to be reprocessed. Instead of sending back the intermediate level
waste that reprocessing has produced, the UK, in cooperation with the Jap-
anese nuclear authorities and companies, wants to send back smaller amounts
of high level waste as a substitute. This waste substitution––BNFL and their
Japanese customers suggest––would decrease waste transportation from about
600 ship transports to about 10; thus saving both BNFL and the UK a lot of
money, and the world, a lot of unnecessary environmental risk. The waste
substitution, says BNFL, would increase the overall amount of nuclear waste
in the UK by an ‘insignificant’ amount (some 1.5 percent) and, in any case, the
substitution will be radioactively neutral (i.e. it will not increase the overall
radioactivity of waste materials in the UK).
In 2005, after years of deliberation, the government finally agreed to handle
the substitution issue in the way that BNFL wanted, and they approved the
concept of waste substitution. My arguments in this article suggest that the
UK government were wrong to do so.
Should nuclear waste be traded?
There are two schools of thought which guide nuclear waste trading in the
international sphere:
(1) That each nation should be self-sufficient in all aspects of the nuclear
‘cycle’ including long-term waste management.
(2) That since other parts of the nuclear cycle are not self-contained within
most countries, why should long-term waste management be?
Those who lean toward the second school of thought might admit that self-
sufficiency is a worthwhile principle but it should not bind a waste-producer
84 Alan Marshall
into a stringent pattern of relations if the various partners could benefit from
waste trading without compromising overall safety.
Those who lean towards the first school of thought are likely to say that
compromising safety is not the only ethical issue that affects substitution and
they would state that nuclear materials and radioactive waste are such
potentially damaging materials, can increase WMD proliferation and geo-
political instability, and are so incredibly long-lived––beyond the timeframe of
any government––that each nation should manage the wastes by themselves
and within their own territories.
There is a case to be made that substitution directly avoids rather than
contributes to returning the obligated waste of another nation. It is, after all,
not the same waste that was actually delivered for, or produced in, repro-
cessing. Acknowledging this, it is still the case that scientific categories are
subject to social agreement and a looser definition of ‘waste return’ may be
quite acceptable to all stakeholders if they are shown good cause. Despite this,
a glaring inconsistency may be noticed by some stakeholders. In an industry
that takes strict note of the precise physical nature of its raw materials (sub-
mitting different nuclear materials to different physical processes, with spe-
cialist rules for security, access, health and monitoring for each of these
materials due to their inherently different physical properties), it seems rather
inconsistent that they suddenly become so nonchalant at the end of the nu-
clear cycle and declare that there is an equivalence between high-level waste
and intermediate-level waste. The exchange of different varieties of waste
begs the question of whether we are comparing apples with oranges.
How equitable is the trading relationship?
As part of their push to proceed with waste substitution, BNFL produced a
consultation paper in 2004 [5]. The consultation paper tried to suggest that
substitution is a practical solution entered into by willing partners. Reading
through the consultation paper there are a number of inconsistencies that
seem throw suspicion on this suggestion. Firstly, BNFL advise that a substi-
tution fee is payable by the customers, i.e. Japan’s nuclear companies. This
would tend to imply that if it was a straight swap, purely a ‘substitution’ in the
vernacular sense, waste for waste, then there is no need for money to change
hands. However, when money changes hands (in the form of the ‘fee’) then
the suggestion that waste substitution involves equitable or absolutely willing
partners becomes less tenable because the substitution immediately becomes
converted to one of compensation for taking on an increased safety or
financial burden (i.e. it appears that Japan is happily paying the UK to take on
the extra burden of dealing with the extra waste).
When money is involved there is also an obvious tendency for the trans-
action to be seen as a commercial endeavour. For those nuclear host com-
munities in the UK such as Sellafield and Dounreay (who may be sensitive to
their community being the future home of an anticipated final repository) the
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 85
fact that the BNFL or the UK Government will receive financial reward for
taking on foreign waste is somewhat suspicious. If foreign customers are
prepared to pay a ‘substitution fee’ then it is likely the British public will
suspect that customer nations are getting more out of the arrangement
(otherwise they wouldn’t be paying a fee). Thus, substitution arrangements
where money changes hands are likely to be interpreted as an unfair swap. In
this case, BNFL’s presentation of substitution as an equitable swap––eco-
nomically and radiologically––is quite misleading.
Although both BNFL and the Government of the UK promise that
financial revenue gained from substitution will be pumped back into paying
for decommissioning old nuclear facilities, this is a scheme which provides for
the future security of the nuclear industry not for the benefit of waste-bur-
dened communities.
What is the role for stakeholder participation?
In democratic nations around the globe, the issue of nuclear waste manage-
ment has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world of public
participation and stakeholder involvement. In some nations, like the Scandi-
navian nations and the Low Countries, the national nuclear waste manage-
ment programme tends to be heavily dependent on promoting successful
stakeholder involvement. In others like the USA, stakeholder involvement
tends to be patchy and superficial.
The UK has tried both approaches without much success so far. However,
the UK Government and its nuclear waste authorities like the Environment
Council, Nirex UK, and CoRWM (Committee on Radioactive Waste Man-
agement) speak of their commitment to public consultation [28]. When it
comes to deciding whether substitution is an appropriate waste management
strategy, however, the role of public participation is inadequate. For example,
the 2005 nuclear waste substitution policy automatically (and unnecessarily)
excluded an important set of stakeholders; those who will be living within the
host community of a future repository containing the substituted waste. The
obvious remedy to this situation is to let the decision on waste substitution be
made as part of the UK’s nuclear waste siting process. This would delay the
decision until the siting process is formulated but it would allow prospective
host communities to voice their opinions about the possibility of living near
internationally substituted nuclear waste as well as domestic waste.
The obvious retort to the suggestion above is that the extra waste is
‘insignificant’ and the safety and environmental risks are negligible. However,
the decision over whether it is really ‘insignificant’ should not be made by
BNFL, or the UK Government, but by those who will be subjected to the
burdens of the substituted waste; the future host community. From a public
perception point of view, the ‘insignificant increase’ and ‘radioactive neu-
trality’ arguments might not wash with a host community intent on seeing
themselves as ‘custodians’ of UK waste rather than as dumping grounds for
86 Alan Marshall
foreign fee-paying customers. Instead, waste substitution will be seen as
profitable trade deal for both BNFL and the Government.
An anonymous reviewer of this article suggests that we should not worry
too much about canvassing opinion from those who may end up living next to
any substituted nuclear waste since such people should have confidence in the
calculations and decisions of scientists, engineers and health and safety offi-
cials. The public, the reviewer suggests, has too many other urgent issues on
their mind to bother about educating themselves on the technological details
of nuclear waste. This would be fine if:
(a) all members of the public were openly electing to defer all decisions
about their future health and safety to the authority of scientists, engi-
neers and Government officials (but they have made no such conces-
(b) science, engineering and health and safety officials in the UK and Japan
hadn’t shown themselves to be incompetent and not entirely trustworthy
in recent years (as shown through various public debacles [32] from
nuclear safety [23] to mad cow disease [3]).
The alternative proposition is that many community members are very
interested in the scientific issues of any new facility planned for their area
since they are concerned about the economic, social and environmental well-
being of their family and their community [24]. Many people are also very
sceptical of any official who suggests that the easiest thing for everybody
concerned is to just trust the authorities [6]. The more someone seeks to court
trust purely on the basis of their technical authority, the more they tend to be
Dumping foreign nuclear waste ‘Through the Backdoor’?
Substitution might be criticized as a way of setting up an active trade in
radioactive waste under a cover of ‘pragmatic’ waste management. This point
of view is cognisant of the fact that if substitution was ever going to be dis-
cussed as a waste management option, it should have been discussed openly
by BNFL and the UK Government when reprocessing was proposed. When
reprocessing was formulated, discussed, opened up for public debate etc; did
BNFL or the UK Government at that time openly state that substitution will
play a major part in the future management of wastes arising from foreign
reprocessing? The answer seems to be yes and no.
It is clear that waste substitution was presented as being within the realm of
possibilities, along with waste return being ‘optional’, when BNFL discussed
waste arrangements with potential reprocessing customers in the 1970s and
1980s (since such substitution means that customer countries would not be
fettered by the possibility of having to repatriate large volumes of Interme-
diate Level Waste (ILW)). However, the UK Government position at this
time was that any future substitution was subject to Government approval
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 87
from all involved countries before reprocessing was to commence. The UK
government policy line at this time also stated that the exact specifications of
waste return should be set out by all the involved parties prior to the com-
mencement of reprocessing operations. For some reason, neither of these
things happened [31]. From this point of view, it seems that BNFL were
served well by such promises for they could press ahead with negotiating
commercial reprocessing contracts unencumbered by the necessity to work
strict waste return plans into the negotiations with customer nations and they
could defuse angry rhetoric from media and activists about foreign waste
More than 10 years on from the latest start up of a reprocessing plant,
THORP in Sellafield––and with 1000 tonnes of increased waste now residing
nearby––it is rather late in the game for BNFL to set out the exact specifi-
cations of waste substitution. BNFL now hope that the UK public will see the
pragmatic necessity for nuclear waste substitution, especially given the small
(percentage-wise) increases in UK based waste that it gives rise to. However,
it will not be the extra volume of waste (and supposedly negligible increase in
health risk) which gives rise to ethical questions and public objections. It will,
instead, be the following issues:
the pattern whereby substitution is foisted upon the public as a way to help
BNFL address its current economic and technological problems stemming
from earlier decisions.
the possibility of public/stakeholder exclusion from the decision-making
and the idea that BNFL and the UK government is profiting by accepting
overseas waste at the expense of burdening host communities.
Dealing with the discontent and immorality of the above issues should give
rise to a number of new suggestions:
(a) The financial benefits from waste substitution should not go to BNFL or
the UK government (by, for instance, subsidising the decommissioning
of old nuclear plants) but should be fed back into the host community.
(b) Do not allow any future reprocessing contracts to be written out which
approve substitution as a waste management strategy.
With regards to ‘a’, if it is thought ethical to reward those who take on risks,
then all profits from substitution should flow into benefiting the actual host
community that will be burdened with the waste. Those who are hesitant to
give away rewards that flow to them from a risky activity tend to play down
the risks, and we have to ask if BNFL and the UK Government are doing this
with regards to their promises of ‘radioactive neutrality’ and ‘insignificant
volumes’ in waste substitution.
Another vital question to ask at this point is this: ‘Does waste substitution
create an undesirable precedent?’ The Waste Substitution consultation report
states that:
88 Alan Marshall
‘‘The current agreements in no way commit BNFL or the UK govern-
ment to substitution in the event that additional reprocessing business
was signed by BNFL’’ [5, p. 30].
This statement is disingenuous in that the single strongest entity seeking to
forge substitution-connected reprocessing contracts will be BNFL. If they
want substitution, BNFL should be obliged to state this upfront so that
stakeholders can fully incorporate it into their decisions on waste management
and waste facility siting. BNFL’s reticence in stating this desire ‘up front’ is
understandable since, if they do so, then antagonistic stakeholders will likely
feel that further substitution is possible, or in fact probable, and the nuclear
waste trade will duly increase. The extra 1.5 percent nuclear waste volume
may turn into an even higher percentage.
The emerging point is that substitution greases the wheels of reprocessing
commerce for willing partners by putting it into a form that is acceptable,
doable and legal. The worries of concerned Britons should be that because
substitution is a money-earner (or money-saver) for BNFL and the UK
government, a strengthened substitution policy will likely open the door to a
regular nuclear waste trade (where money is exchanged for handling foreign
wastes not just from reprocessing customers but from non-customer nations).
Looking at a parallel situation, when the Russian government approved the
import of foreign waste into Russia for disposal, it was interpreted in both
Britain and around the world as a key moment in making Russia the nuclear
dump of the world [10]. The Russian atomic energy agency (which is to handle
any contracted foreign waste) came under intense fire worldwide for selling
out public and environmental safety but the answer it gave in response is that
Russia has the technology to handle the waste and it needs the added income
to operate its own nuclear waste facilities. The question we must put to BNFL
and the UK government is whether or not the case whereby Britain takes on
Japanese wastes via substitution is all that different? To save itself money,
BNFL and the Government is, via the substitution program, actually
importing wastes. So is it any different than Russia asking for money to store
other countries’ waste? If it is not that different, then a backlash just as severe
as the Russian one may be the least the UK government may expect when a
UK waste repository is planned.
What do the public feel about substituted nuclear waste?
It was suggested above that any decision to go ahead with nuclear waste
substitution should be made in consultation with affected communities. No
one knows for sure who those affected communities are, or will be, because no
decision has been made as to where or how to permanently store either
intermediate level or high-level waste in the UK but we can learn a lot from
several Government-sponsored studies such as the public consultation studies
of the ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely’ programme.
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 89
In one report of this programme there was public ambivalence over whe-
ther substitution was a good or bad thing. There were also a number of
individual expressions that a more open debate should be encouraged. In the
Scottish Executive survey [26] of Scottish attitudes to radioactive waste,
approximately 90 people out of 330 responded to the substitution issue, and of
those, half were negatively predisposed to it. This may be interpreted in two
ways: (1) that only a small proportion of interested people are opposed to
substitution, (2) that substituted waste has not received any high-profile
attention (because the final siting of it has not been discussed) but if it does
receive attention and more people become interested in it then there will be a
high percentage of people who will respond with marked concern.
It is notable that foreign-made nuclear waste is generally very unwelcome
wherever it might be discussed. Candidate host communities can sometimes
be persuaded to put up with their own national waste but they have a tough
time putting up with other nations’ waste. According to a poll undertaken by
the European Commission [8] on nuclear waste disposal––of those questioned
only 7 percent were willing to store waste from another country. This figure
may be even lower if only members of prospective host communities, like
Sellafield or Dounreay, were polled.
With regards to those European communities that have selected themselves
for possible repository siting, there are a number of examples that show that
the communities are very sensitive to the idea of foreign waste. In Finland, for
example, Kimma Tuikka, a representative of the Kivelty movement based
near the once-proposed host community of Aanekoski, stated that members
of his movement were very negative to the idea that the proposed facility
would end up receiving radioactive waste from other EU nations. Also in
Finland, Altti Lucander, a member of the local authorities of the Eurojoki
host community acknowledged that community confidence in the proposed
facility strengthened after the import of spent fuel was prohibited by Finnish
law 9 [25].
In Sweden, too, potential host communities have gone to great lengths to
ensure that the repositories that are being proposed for their areas will only
accommodate waste from their country [17]. An anonymous reviewer of this
article suggested that Swedish communities are competing to offer themselves
up to host nuclear waste so we shouldn’t necessarily suggest nuclear waste as
some universally despised spectre. However, it is not communities per se
around the whole Swedish nation that want it, just members of the nuclear
elite, including nuclear-industry friendly local authorities, within areas which
are already highly nuclearised. And even there, they only want the waste from
domestic sources, not international sources.
In Australia, a nation previously proposed as a host for a multinational
repository [18], an independent survey commissioned by Greenpeace in 1999
[11] found that 85% of Australians were against the importing of radioactive
In Russia, as introduced above, 2.6 million people signed a petition to halt
the Russian Atomic Energy Agency from allowing the importation of nuclear
90 Alan Marshall
waste [30]. None of the above examples deal with waste substitution, in par-
ticular, but they certainly go some way to expose importation of nuclear waste
as provoking negative reactions in the public mind.
Third party nations and transit issues
One affected group of stakeholders yet to be considered by BNFL and the UK
Government are those people who populate the Pacific Islands surrounding
the transport route to Japan. These nations have tried in vain to get BNFL and
the UK involved in discussions about environmental safety assessments,
liability and emergency procedures.
The Fiji based Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC), for example,
‘‘that Japan, France and Britain are refusing to discuss compensation in
the event of an accident, and have failed to conduct detailed environ-
mental risk assessments’’ [12].
Also, in July 2000, BNFL ignored the opposition from South Pacific island
nations that waste shipments must not violate their 200 mile Exclusive
Economic Zone.
South Pacific nations may feel particularly aggrieved on this issue since they
have had to put up with what they consider ‘nuclear colonialism’ in the past
with regards to French and American nuclear bomb testing. Now they have to
put up with lack of consultation regarding ‘floating nuclear time bombs’ in
their backyard.
Another socio-ethical problem is that the politics of anti-nuclear policies in
the Pacific is affected by the politics of Aid. In the past, Pacific countries have
had to abandon their anti-nuclear policies because countries like Australia,
Japan, Britain and the USA have refused to sign aid packages. In the realm of
nuclear transport there are strong suspicions that both Australia and Japan,
which both provide significant aid to the region, have been lobbying behind
the scenes to prevent more strident criticism of nuclear transports [13].
Reprocessing and waste substitution
In a number of statements BNFL has suggested that substitution decisions
should be independent from the reprocessing issue. The division though is
artificial in that the substitution issue comes about due to previous repro-
cessing contracts and the Japanese waste is in the UK in the first place due to
As is well documented, reprocessing has been subjected to intense criticism
for economic, safety and environmental reasons. It has also been criticised for
being a de facto waste management strategy. Obviously, waste substitution
could be set upon by antagonists as a way to criticise the whole reprocessing
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 91
ethos. This will serve to re-ignite arguments within the public domain; argu-
ments long hoped by the nuclear industry to have been put to rest. Repro-
cessing at THORP in the UK is now into its second decade of operation. It
was not a smooth path getting this far, either politically or financially. THORP
was, and is, derided by its critics as a messy, costly and undemocratic ‘white
elephant’ [29]. It’s future is all the more uncertain given a massive waste leak
discovered recently.
One of the recurring criticisms against reprocessing is that it provided:
a pretence of a ‘solution’ to radioactive waste problems and is a signif-
icant driving force behind the growth of a civilian plutonium fuel cycle.
The primary interest of nuclear power corporations, including those in
Japan, is to dump spent reactor fuel somewhere else, on someone else,
rather than managing it themselves. Reprocessing plants serve this pur-
pose by serving as de facto storage sites’’ [13].
The benefits from reprocessing for the Japanese, then, seem to be its function
as an expensive way to delay the waste crisis:
‘‘So great was the Japanese enthusiasm for off-loading its waste on
Britain, so significant was Japanese investment in THORP, that the
facility was sometimes colloquially known as BNFL as ‘the Japan plant’’
If we acknowledge such perspectives, it is easy to draw the conclusion that
substitution encourages reprocessing by letting overseas customers know they
can use reprocessing (coupled with substitution) to solve large volume nuclear
waste problems. Given this, substitution is seen as the latest betrayal within
the reprocessing quagmire whereby the stated promise to return the waste is
finally given up for a little extra cash. And by bolstering reprocessing, waste
substitution prolongs the financial efficacy of a process that creates more
waste. If BNFL want to present substitution as part of an environmentally
beneficial waste management process, it should state that substitution only
increases safety and reduces risks from a process that inherently raises risks
and increases wastes.
Security and proliferation implications of waste substitution
Although substitution will decrease the overall amount of transport of waste,
it will not necessarily decrease the dangers associated with waste transporta-
tion. This is especially the case with regards to the terrorist-potential
associated with high-level waste.
Any authorised transportation of nuclear materials could conceivably be
subjected to terrorist attack and this attack could come in two forms; sabotage
and theft.
Sabotage would aim at merely dispersing the nuclear materials on a
nuclear-laden ship in order to create a pronounced international radiological
92 Alan Marshall
incident. Theft, on the other hand, would involve the collection of the material
for some future sinister purpose, for example to make either a nuclear bomb
or a radiological weapon. Nuclear bombs generally require 7–10 kg of plu-
tonium whilst radiological weapons, or ‘dirty bombs’, involve the explosive
dispersal of non-fissionable radioactive material. Both sabotage and theft of
nuclear materials are acknowledged issues within the world of nuclear security
and counter-terrorism [4]. For instance:
‘‘Osama bin Laden described the acquisition of such weapons as a
‘religious duty’, when speaking to an ABC news interviewer three years
ago’. The events of September 11
illustrate, and increase, the severity
of this threat’’ [14].
And that:
‘‘this threat from Rogue states, international terrorist networks and
small fundamentalist groups alike is not a hypothetical one. There are
already details of over 250 confirmed black-market incidents involving
nuclear material or other radioactive sources in the International Atomic
Energy Agency’s Illicit Trafficking Database’’ [14].
When it comes to nuclear waste substitution as planned by the UK and Japan,
we should note that although the quantity of targets for terrorists to aim at are
drastically reduced, the quality of terror-potential per target actually in-
creases. This is to say that although any one of the 600 odd ship movements
carrying intermediate level radioactive waste may serve to attract terrorist
interest they will do so at a much lower level compared to the 10 or so high-
level wastes. Given that high-level radioactive waste movement will also
contain plutonium oxide (in a form mixed with uranium oxide), and given that
such mixed oxide can be converted to plutonium via technology probably
available to sub-state organizations, then, on the face of it, the high-level
transport option will present a far greater physical danger of nuclear prolif-
eration by sub-national terrorists. Also, given the greater degree of public
terror potential that would come from attacking a plutonium laden vessel, it
seems possible that the high-level waste option will present qualitatively more
attractive targets.
To a large extent, though, nobody can really say which is the more
attractive target. The real point here though is that BNFL and the UK gov-
ernment are confidently saying ‘the fewer movements there are, the fewer
targets there are’, without judging either the qualitative difference in ter-
ror-potential or the increased intrinsic physical danger that ships carrying
high-level waste may present. It is also inconsistent for BNFL to claim that
high-level waste carried over the seas poses no greater risk of terrorism
activity than intermediate-level waste yet they, themselves, station greater
security for high-level waste at their own land-based facilities.
Some people [27] would suggest that the high-level waste terror potential is
effectively countered by the security on board nuclear waste-laden ships.
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 93
Others however profess very strongly that such security is wholly inadequate.
For instance,
‘‘to spread plutonium across an entire region, terrorists need only send a
missile or boat like the one Bin Laden used to attack the USS Cole,
equipped with the right explosives, into the side of one of the freighters.
The MOX fuel is stored in containers which can resist temperatures of
800c for 30 minutes. Fires on ships...can burn for 24 hours at 1,000C.
Stealing the material is a matter of overwhelming the 26 British
policemen on board and blowing the hatches off, a task well within the
capabilities of several terrorist groups and all of the world’s aspirant
nuclear states’’ [20].
Nuclear waste record keeping
The practice of accounting in the nuclear industry is plagued by discrepancies,
both when that accounting deals with materials and with money. Since waste
substitution is prefaced on good accounting of both, concern has to be
expressed about past problems. BNFL, for example, has come under criticism
with regard to past accounting practices which are directly relevant to their
future planned work in waste substitution. For example, ‘‘when BNFL built
THORP, it predicted that it would eventually make profits of £500 million’’ [19]
but in August 2003, BNFL had announced that it had made a loss of more
than £1 billion. Critics predicted this loss in the early 1990s [15] but their
voices were drowned out by industry and government voices.
Questionable accounting practices have dogged the reprocessing industry
[21] but perhaps more worrying is the penchant for mismanagement of
materials accounting in the nuclear industry both in the UK and Japan. As one
example of such mishandling, consider this news report:
‘‘The disturbing revelation yesterday by the Japanese Government that
plutonium recovered over 25 years of operations at the Tokai-Mura
Reprocessing Plant is 206 kilograms short of the amount predicted
demonstrates the inherent capacity of safeguards at facilities handling
large quantities of bomb-usable nuclear material, according to the
Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington DC-based non-proliferation
research and advocacy center’’ [7].
This is enough to make 30 to 40 atomic bombs.It is noteworthy that:
‘‘Japan has offered various explanations, including measurement and
estimation errors, hold up in the plant’s process equipment and leaks into
waste streams. Regardless of how it occurred, however, the Tokai
‘plutonium gap’ demonstrates that safeguards technology is incapable of
fulfilling the objective of allowing timely detection of plutonium diver-
sion. Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have
94 Alan Marshall
apparently been aware of this problem for many years, yet been unable
to resolve it’’ [7].
While the International Atomic Energy Agency:
‘‘says that it is satisfied with the Japanese government explanation that
about half the missing material ended up in liquid waste, about
100 kilograms of plutonium still remain unaccounted for. Japan should
immediately shut down the Tokai plant and undertake a full clean-out
and accounting under IAEA supervision. To be credible this process
must be transparent and open to scrutiny’’ [7].
Nuclear materials routinely go missing as they get moved around and one has
to wonder if this will be the case in a waste substitution programme as vol-
umes are handed from one caretaker to another. Accounting anomalies go on
even within the UK. For example, there are discrepencies between British:
‘‘recorded production histories, which may be incomplete, and current
inventories, leading to a situation where significant quantities of fissile
material cannot be accounted for’’ [2].
The lack of transparency in the industry may be a major contributor to this
problem. And according to a report by ‘The Campaign for Freedom of
Information’, BNFL were neither open or transparent about waste substitu-
tion when they were asked to disclose information in accordance with the 1992
Environmental Information Regulations. According to the report:
‘‘BNFL failed to supply copies of clauses in the contracts between BNFL
and one of its customers on the substitution of high level radioactive
waste for intermediate and low level radioactive waste. These are a
crucial part of the ‘waste substitution’ debate since they describe how
much radioactive waste from overseas will ultimately be disposed of in
the UK, and how much will be returned to the customer’’ [9].
As if losing records and materials, and the lack of transparency, isn’t bad
enough, there is also a history of record falsification in British–Japanese nu-
clear trade relations [1]. From 1996 to 1999 BNFL transported mixed oxide
nuclear materials to Japan that carried with it falsified safety data. The Jap-
anese, once they had found out, refused to accept anymore transports until
BNFL had launched all sorts of new safety checks, training programmes and
not a little diplomatic appeasement of their Japanese customers.
The no transport option
To be sure, terrorist dangers, environmental risks and lost and falsified
records can happen no matter whether the waste to be transported is 600
intermediate-level waste shipments or 10 high-level waste shipments. Given
the problem with transporting wastes, one of the solutions might be to leave
everything where it currently is, not to move anything. This would, of course,
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 95
prompt headlines about Britain being a waste dump, but surely it would also
be poetic justice in that a country so vigorously pursuing reprocessing and
international nuclear commerce would have to face up to the negative con-
sequences of that trade.
Much has been made in the consultation report that the extra high-level
waste will only add a small percentage to the inventory (and is radioactively
and environmentally neutral) but, given BNFL’s argument that the substi-
tutable high-level waste that it wants to send back is radiologically equivalent
to the intermediate-level waste, and that this intermediate-level waste is a tiny
extra percentage of the national inventory of the UK’s radioactive waste, then
some of the arguments for the absolute necessity for even sending back
high-level waste must be considered dented.
Under the regimes of waste substitution agreed by the UK government,
BNFL and their Japanese trading partners, it is clear that BNFL will profit
from a process that increases the amount of dangerous nuclear waste that one
day will have to be sited near particular British communities. It is also clear
that this practice will bolster BNFL’s reprocessing business with all the
environmental dangers and proliferation and terrorist problems that that
presents. This does not mean waste substitution should not go ahead under
any circumstances. Perhaps it can go ahead in an ethical manner if it fulfils the
following conditions:
Claims of radioactive equivalence and environmental neutrality have to be
opened up for scrutiny by a wider audience.
Any future waste substitute arrangements are made only between
acknowledged equitable partners; wherein the partners are assumed to
have the same political, economic and environmental standards. This
would ensure that Britain and Japan are not taking advantage of the looser
environmental or planning laws in each other’s countries and it would
ensure that waste substitution between Japan and the UK is not used as a
precedent to justify the future trade between these countries and lesser
developed countries.
All affected parties agree (including the future host communities and transit
nations such as those en route in the Pacific).
To get these affected parties to agree means considering the following:
arranging suitable emergency and liability plans (including taking seriously
the option of paying up-front fees which are reimbursed by the country if
nothing goes wrong).
compensation of communities for becoming higher proliferation or higher
terrorist-potential zones.
delaying decision on substitution until this takes place.
96 Alan Marshall
accepting no private profit for increasing public risks.
giving consideration to the no transport of nuclear waste option.
openly discussing who gets paid for what.
debating whether the intractability of waste substitution is another reason
to consider the cessation of reprocessing?
1. BNFL execs bid to drum up trust and new deals (Sept. 2000) Japan Times Online: http://
2. Barnaby, F. (2003). FMCT handbook – a guide to a fissile material cut-off treaty. Oxford
Research Group.
3. Becker, S. (Ed.) (2004). Mad cow disease: Are we safe? USA: Nova Science Publishers.
4. Byrnes, M. E. et al. (2003). Nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism: emergency response
and public protection. USA: Lewis Publishers.
5. Dept. of Trade & Industry (DTI). (2004). Consultation paper on proposals for intermediate
level radioactive waste.
6. Dierkes, M., & van Grote, C. (2000). Understanding and trust: The public, science and tech-
nology. UK: Routledge.
7. Dolley, S. (2003) Enormous ‘Plutonium Gap’ at Japan’s Tokai plant highlights proliferation
risks of reprocessing. Washington, DC: Nuclear Control Institute.
8. Eurobarometer. (2002). Europeans and radioactive waste. Eurobarometer 56.2. Brussels: The
European Commission.
9. Frankel, M., & Ecclestone, A. (1993). The environmental information regulations and
THORP, The Campaign for Freedom of Information.
10. Glasser, S. B. (2001). Russia passes nuclear waste Plan. Washington Post, Wednesday, June 6,
11. Green, J. (1999a). ‘‘Survey reveals strong anti-nuclear sentiment’’, Nuclear and Environ-
mental Research website.
12. Green, J. (1999b). Pacific islanders Protest Plutonium Shipments. Green Left Weekly, August
11th, 1999.
13. Green, J. (2002). Proliferation, profits and plutonium ships. Green Left Weekly, Issue 502, July
31st 2002.
14. Greenpeace. (2001). Nuclear reprocessing, plutonium and nuclear weapons, greenpeace
media briefing, November 2001.
15. Greenpeace. (2003). Greenpeace calls for closure of THORP nuclear plant to be brought
forward,Tue 26 August 2003, Greenpeace Press Release London, UNITED KINGDOM.
16. Hall, T. (1986) Nuclear politics: The history of nuclear power in Britain. UK: Pelican, Har-
17. LKO Local Competence Strengthening in Oskarshamn, Project Nuclear Waste Site Investi-
gation Stage – Municipal Council Decision, 2002.
18. McCombie, C., & Stoll, R. (2000). The Pangea proposal for international or regional disposal
facilities. Proceedings of the Nuclear Co-operation Meeting on Spent Fuel and High Level
Waste, Las Vegas, NV, 7–9 March, 2000.
19. Merrell, C. (2003). Sellafield reprocessing plant to close by 2010, The Scientific Alliance,
Latest News, Times Online.
20. Monbiot, G. (2002). Dangerous waters. The Guardian, June 11th, 2002.
21. Morgan, O. (2000). BNFL’s nuclear fallout. Observer, Sunday April 23, 2000.
22. Morgan, O. (2003). Plutonium proves an explosive problem. The Observer, Sunday March
30th, 2003.
23. Mullins, J. (2004). Tokyo’s nuclear crisis. New Scientist, 28 August 2004, issue 2462.
24. Munto, D. (1996). Hazardous waste and the democratic choice. Washington, DC: Georgetown
University Press.
Questioning nuclear waste substitution 97
25. Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). (2002). Forum for Stakeholder Confidence: 2nd FSC
Workshop—Executive Summary and International Perspective, Stakeholder Involvement and
Confidence in the Process of Decision-Making for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel, 15–16
November, 2001, Turku, Finland.
26. Rodger, N. (2002). Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Awareness and attitudes of the
Group Research Findings No.21.
27. Rossin, A. David (2004). U.S. policy on spent fuel reprocessing: the issues. Frontline: Nuclear
reaction: Policy on Reprocessing. Available on PBS website:
frontline .
28. See (2005) for instance the public consultation web pages of CORwM (http://www.cor-, Nirex ( and Defra (http://
29. The Scientific Alliance (2003). Come clean on your nuclear policy. Financial Times, 28th
August 2003.
30. WISE NC (2000). Russia: 2.6 Million Sign Petition Against Import of Nuclear Waste, WISE,
News Communique on November 10th, 2000.
31. Walker, W. (1999). Nuclear entrapment: THORP and the politics of commitment, IPPR,
London, p. 131.
32. Weale, A. (Ed.) (2003). Risk, democratic citizenship and public policy. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
98 Alan Marshall
... Nuclear reprocessing is the technical and chemical process whereby spent fuel is separated from useful fuel, the latter of which can, if necessary, be used again in nuclear reactors. Originally, the reprocessing process was a military technology used to recover plutonium for use in nuclear weapons [2]. The answer on the second question is even more complex. ...
Full-text available
In construction and use of nuclear power plants we could see the cycles of ups and downs. These cycles are connected to regional political situations, financial crisis, natural disasters and accidents in power plants. Use of atomic energy is mainly an economic question but, due to consequences of involuntary radiation from this form of energy, also political question. Nuclear power plants operation post numerous problems about their safety and security. All these questions are short term questions and concern only the generation that gains from their production. And all these questions could be resolved at the time they arise and with the use of knowledge available at that time. Greater problem presents the question of radioactive waste management. Radioactive waste problem would affect not only the generation that gains from nuclear power plants production but also some next generations that wouldn't have any gains from the power plant. The main question about radioactive waste is whether such material should be treated as a waste or a secondary raw material. Some things which from today's technology are treated as a waste, tomorrow could be reused. One of the law-political question is the appropriate regulation of radioactive waste management and its storage or disposal. Because of high costs (including the environmental rent) of radioactive waste management, there is a tendency to promote shared radwaste repositories for several countries. This tendency is seen also in EU directives that regulate the radioactive waste. Submission is divided in four parts. First part presents the regulation of radioactive waste management within international legal system. It displays main principles and ideas of radioactive waste management within international agreements and EU regulations. Second part deals with conflict between the obligation of safe radioactive waste management and right of local population to clean and safe living environment. This part presents also court cases from European court of human rights (from here on ECHR) that deals with the right to clean environment. There are more and more court decisions in which ECHR recognizes that one of basic human rights is also a right to clean and safe environment. So these cases could mean the difficulties to find the proper location for the power plant and also the repository. Third part deals with the ideal of shared radwaste repositories. Such idea could be tempting, because the costs of building and maintaining such repository could be lower than in a cases where each county (even with small nuclear program) make its own repository. On the other hand such solutions could hide some troubles. There is a mismatch between the conventions and international agreements that regulate responsibility for environmental damage and conventions and agreements that allow the possibility for common repositories. Problem is presented also through analysis of bilateral agreement between Slovenia and Croatia in the field of responsibility for nuclear waste from Krško's power plant. Fourth part deals with the possible legal solutions that could solve the abovementioned mismatch.
... This is scrutinized in relation to principles of fairness and welfare (Shrader-Frechette 2000;Okrent 1999;Ahearne 2000), and attempts are made to reconcile it as a question of economic behavior, to be discounted across generations (Belzer 2000). In the twenty-first century, ethics is regularly referred to in HLW research and was the subject of a special issue of Risk Analysis in December 2000 (see also Wilson 2000;Shrader-Frechette 2005;Marshall 2007). ...
Research on high-level nuclear waste management has focused on technical and scientific issues since the U.S. National Academy of Sciences first studied the problem in the mid-1950s and recommended long-term disposal in deep salt formations. In this review, we trace the development of the problem's definition and its associated research since socioeconomic, political, and policy issues were first given consideration and nuclear waste management became recognized as more than a technical problem. Three somewhat overlapping time periods can be identified. First, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, initial research explored institutional dimensions of nuclear waste, among other subjects, while several countries attempted to officially solve the problem. The second period began in the early 1980s with a concerted effort to site nuclear waste repositories, and ended in the mid-1990s with some progress in Sweden, Finland, and the United States, and general stalemate elsewhere. This period accelerated research on risk perception and stigma of nuclear waste, and elevated a focus on public trust. Special attention was given to repository siting conflicts in particular. The last period, since the mid-1990s, has been characterized by failure and continuing political stalemate, with the major exception of Scandinavia, and increased attention to public participation, political systems, and international solutions. Questions of ethics have been given serious attention, while research on risk perceptions and siting conflicts continues. Thus, we see some signs of progress toward final disposal. We frame these periods in a broader context of the shifting role of applied social scientists. The paper concludes with a general discussion of this research area and prospects for future research.
Full-text available
This is a book review of a collection of essays on planning and siting hazardous waste facilities and sites. The authors were top researchers in the 1980s and 1990s and the book was edited by Don Mutton.
Russia passes nuclear waste Plan
  • S B Glasser
Glasser, S. B. (2001). Russia passes nuclear waste Plan. Washington Post, Wednesday, June 6, 2001.
Tokyo's nuclear crisis
  • J Mullins
Mullins, J. (2004). Tokyo's nuclear crisis. New Scientist, 28 August 2004, issue 2462.
Nuclear politics: The history of nuclear power in Britain. UK: Pelican, Harmondsworth
  • T Hall
Hall, T. (1986) Nuclear politics: The history of nuclear power in Britain. UK: Pelican, Harmondsworth.
The Pangea proposal for international or regional disposal facilities
  • C Mccombie
  • R Stoll
McCombie, C., & Stoll, R. (2000). The Pangea proposal for international or regional disposal facilities. Proceedings of the Nuclear Co-operation Meeting on Spent Fuel and High Level Waste, Las Vegas, NV, 7-9 March, 2000.
Survey reveals strong anti-nuclear sentiment'', Nuclear and Environmental Research website
  • J Green
Green, J. (1999a). ''Survey reveals strong anti-nuclear sentiment'', Nuclear and Environmental Research website.
Greenpeace calls for closure of THORP nuclear plant to be brought forward
  • Greenpeace
Greenpeace. (2003). Greenpeace calls for closure of THORP nuclear plant to be brought forward,Tue 26 August 2003, Greenpeace Press Release London, UNITED KINGDOM.
Understanding and trust: The public, science and technology
  • M Dierkes
  • C Van Grote
Dierkes, M., & van Grote, C. (2000). Understanding and trust: The public, science and technology. UK: Routledge.