Risk Management In Nuclear Waste Management

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Risk Management in Nuclear Waste Management

Risk Management In Nuclear Waste Management

Part I


This paper analyses some potential nuclear risk management, concerning terrorism or more mundane forms of crime, such as fraud, in management of nuclear waste using a PEST scan (of political, economic, social and technical issues) and some insights of criminologists on crime prevention. Nuclear waste arises as spent fuel from ongoing energy generation or other nuclear operations, operational contamination or emissions, and decommissioning of obsolescent facilities. In international and EU political contexts, nuclear waste management is a sensitive issue, regulated specifically as part of the nuclear industry as well as in terms of hazardous waste policies. The industry involves state, commercial and mixed public-private bodies. The social and cultural dimensions - risk, uncertainty, and future generations - resonate more deeply here than in any other aspect of waste management. The paper argues that certain tendencies in regulation of the industry, claimed to be justified on security grounds, are decreasing transparency and veracity of reporting, opening up invisible spaces for management frauds, and in doing allowing a culture of impunity in which more serious criminal or terrorist risks could arise. What is needed is analysis of this 'exceptional' industry in terms of the normal cannons of risk assessment - a task that this paper begins.


Nuclear waste management as exceptional business

Although nuclear waste looms large in policy terms, such wastes are not very large in volume terms, when compared with other forms of waste, hazardous and non-hazardous.2 Much of the world's nuclear waste arises from the generation of electricity where, by volume, fossil fuels of course generate the greatest amount of waste (European Environment Agency, 2001). Enhancing the nuclear energy development is sometimes seen as one of the main solutions in this area (Qiang, 2002). Yet, other alternatives such as hydropower and wind power may come close in this perspective.

Nuclear wastes are of course volumetrically tiny compared with fossil fuels. In business terms, however, nuclear wastes are 'big' and are becoming more so. This is due to three main factors. (i) All aspects of management are highly expensive, one driver of costs being the length of time over which secure storage would be necessary, another being the measures necessary to contain any long-term migration of radioactivity into the immediately surrounding environments or more widely - issues that are sharply contested, with anti-nuclear power groups suggesting that it would be impossible to guarantee that migration could not happen (No2nuclearpower, no date). The costs arise because radioactive wastes from ongoing electricity generations and other uses of nuclear materials are highly dangerous over many hundreds or even thousands of years, the appropriate means of disposal being a matter of controversy (as mentioned above). Reprocessing only marginally reduces radioactivity, even though it may recover some re-usable elements. Even 'temporary' storage (which may last many decades) is not without difficulties, dangers, needs for monitoring and security and attendant financial ...
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