The Royal Society has urged the nuclear waste disposal firm, Nirex, to open its scientific programme for the building of an underground radioactive waste repository in Cumbria to national and international peer review.
The society's year-long study of the programme by a team of academics -- carried out at the request of Nirex -- says that exposure of the firm's research programme to peer review is particularly important. It will allow the development of a range of geological and environmental scenarios that may operate at the site.
The study group of the Royal Society includes Geoffrey Boulton, head of the department of geology and geophysics at Edinburgh University, James Jackson, a lecturer in earth sciences at Cambridge University, and Ken Sorbie of the petroleum engineering department at Heriot-Watt University.
The group, chaired by Sir Alan Muir Wood, says that modelling of aspects of site behaviour -- such as the transport of radionuclides through fractured rock -- is still at an early stage. "No scenarios have yet been developed to take account of the consequences of climate change through a future glacial period, a critical feature of long-lived wastes."
The group was "forcibly struck" by the extent to which some scientific reports of Nirex are protected from wider scrutiny by being classified "commercial-in-confidence".
Nirex wants to build the repository at a depth of about 650 metres below a designated area at Sellafield. The society is "retaining an open mind as to whether Sellafield can meet the safety criteria for a deep repository".
Disposal of radioactive wastes in deep repositories. Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1. Price: Pounds .50.