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Optimisation, Detriment and Proportionality – The Need for Checks and Balances. Gregg Butler* º and Grace McGlynn* * Director IDM Ltd † Professor of Science in Sustainable Development, University of Manchester. An admission….

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optimisation detriment and proportionality the need for checks and balances

Optimisation, Detriment and Proportionality – The Need for Checks and Balances

Gregg Butler*º and Grace McGlynn*

* Director IDM Ltd

† Professor of Science in Sustainable Development, University of Manchester

an admission
An admission…

…..this is not exactly the first time I have presented work by myself, Grace and others in this subject area…..for example ……

Risk, Regulation and Level Playing Fields …….or “Holism Takes a Holiday?” (SRP, Recent legislation: Achievements and future challenges, London, October 2001)

This concluded that very large amounts of money might be being misapplied in guarding against very small risks and detriments from radioactive discharges. Many of those present seemed to agree… at least on the day…….


Sustainable Environmental Regulation (BNES, NEDCON02, Managing Radioactive Discharges to the Environment, Chilton, Oxon, April 02)

Evidence of enormous imputed life valuation for miniscule risks - people agreeing – sometimes ruefully

ALARP and Socio-economic Effects Looking for a Balance?? ……..is anyone committed to getting a balance? Does anyone care?? (SRP ALARP: Principles and Practices, Oxford April 2003)

This concluded that very large amounts of money really werebeing misapplied in guarding against very small risks and detriments from radioactive discharges. Many of those present seemed to agree… at least on the day…


Risk Based Approach to Environmental Decision Making (BNES, NEDCON04, Managing Radioactive Discharges to the Environment, Chilton, Oxon, April 04)

Risk based valuation of detriment - People agreeing – sometimes ruefully – that the results seemed to make sense

Doing the Right Things? Risk and Detriment Valuation and Prioritisation (SRP, Change and Continuity in Radiation Protection, Cardiff, June 2005)

CBA versus new industry structure – will Treasury be impressed by (and fund) disproportionality?? – all the operators agreed mightily – that they wouldn’t!


Optimisation in Cleanup – one or two years on (BNES, NEDCON02, Managing Radioactive Discharges to the Environment, Chilton, Oxon, April 06)

News of NDA Prioritisation work and how it could give a basis for proportionality in the new industry regime…….but it hasn’t shown much sign of doing it to date….

what were we saying
What were we saying?

That justifying spend not based on some concept of value for money was going to be difficult

That spending that valued statistical lives at many times the Government policy guidelines was unlikely to impress the Treasury

That the structure set up with the NDA made it very difficult to successfully motivate a concern about spending

‘Commercial mind +/- Strategic mind = ???’

And that money spent disproportionately on discharge reduction was quite likely to be the money that wasn’t spent on reducing hazard potential

what are the concerns
What are the concerns?

The primary safety and environmental concern of nuclear power and the nuclear fuel cycle is that radioactive substances might escape from institutional control, enter the environment, and cause harm to humans and/or biota. There are two main aspects:

  • ‘Business as usual’ discharges regulated by Environmental Regulators
  • Accidental releases where the discharge is neither expected or regulated – mitigated against by plant designs and operational controls, and regulated by safety regulators – NII in the UK
what are the risks
What are the risks?

In the UK, individual safety is interpreted against the Tolerability of Risk (ToR) framework

Broadly Acceptable: <1 in 1,000,000 per annum risk of fatality (10-6/a)

Tolerable: boundary of tolerability ‘not as widely applicable’ but 1 in 1,000 per annum (10-3/a) just tolerable for workers and 1 in 10,000 per annum (10-4/a) for the public

This is reflected in a Basic Safety Limit of 10-4/a and a Basic Safety Objective of 10-6/a for off-site fatalities

what are the risks1
What are the risks?
  • For routine discharges, the most affected ‘critical group’) must receive a dose no higher than 500 microsieverts (µSv) in a year within a Public Dose Limit of 1,000µSv/a
  • Using the accepted dose-risk factor of 6% per Sv gives a maximum risk of death of 3x10-5 with a risk at the public dose limit of 6x10-5. Single facilities and new nuclear installations are limited to 300µSv in a year, or a risk of 1.8x10-5
what are the risks2
What are the risks?
  • Actual doses and risks are lower than the limits – and reduce rapidly with distance and time from the discharge – with a 2005 average to the UK population of 0.9µSv/a – giving a risk of 5.4x10-8 per annum
  • Thus all individual risks are in the ‘tolerable’ range and the vast majority lie well within the ‘broadly acceptable’ range
what are the risks3
What are the risks?

BUT – some discharges are long lived and spread widely, giving rise to very small doses to very large numbers of people over long times. If aggregated, these Collective Doses can predict relatively large numbers of statistical fatalities – which can be misrepresented by anti-nuclear groups and can raise ‘thousands will die’ headlines

Against this background, the ICRP has stated that

The aggregation of very low individual doses over extended time periods is inappropriate, and in particular, the calculation of the number of cancer deaths based on collective effective doses from trivial individual doses should be avoided

what therefore is the detriment
What, therefore, is the detriment?

Almost all the collective dose from regulated doses is delivered at risks that are ‘broadly acceptable’ or near the bottom of the ‘tolerable’ region

ICRP recommends that aggregating small doses over large populations and long periods should be avoided

SO – an argument can be made that the societal detriment from the discharges of a nuclear site meeting current regulations is negligible

But what would stakeholders think?

what is the guidance
What is the Guidance?

Current EA Guidance states:

...calculated average annual individual doses for a population group in the nanosievert (nSv/y) range or below should be ignored in the decision making process as the associated risks are minuscule and the contribution to total doses to individuals will be insignificant. Higher annual doses, up to say a few microsievert (μSv/y) can be considered trivial but may require some consideration particularly if at the higher end of the range. Calculated annual average individual doses in excess of these values should prompt careful consideration of the discharge options being considered.

is there a methodology
Is there a methodology?

Put simply, this Guidance states:

  • If it’s around 10-3µSv/a ignore it
  • If it’s up to a few µSv/a you might think about it
  • If it’s higher than a few microsieverts think about it carefully

Which might lead one to think that, for regulation of doses from current nuclear plants, there was, and should be, little pressure on reducing discharges – consistent with the view that any detriment from the discharges might be considered negligible


BUT doses are subject to Optimisation

Optimisation is based on ALARA ‘as low as reasonably achievable, economic and social factors being taken into account’ driven by Best Practical Means (BPM)

But BPM is a driver until the costs of further control over radioactive substances would be grossly disproportionate to the benefits that would result .... from further reductions and ....

it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach agreement on a single set of numerical criteria that would be appropriate for all sites.


So optimisation becomes a straight arm-wrestle between the regulator and the regulated.

And what have the results of this arm-wrestle been?

Well you might think that the current Guidance (ignore, think, think harder?) and the ‘inappropriateness’ of summing statistical fatalities would lead to a lower imputed value for the detriment from the low doses caused by regulated discharges than in fields like healthcare and transport that routinely use Cost Benefit Analysis?


On the contrary – many studies (and not just ours – references on request!!) have shown that the values imputed of over £1M per man sievert (or £17M per statistical fatality), nearly all of of this at doses which should, according to the Guidance, be neglected!!!

By avoiding any hint of aggregation and Cost Benefit Analysis we’ve ended up with much higher abatement costs than in the fields which use CBA

The maximum cost which would have been derived using an ‘inappropriate’ method is being exceeded

Babies and bathwater come inexorably to mind!

optimisation and cba
Optimisation and CBA
  • And CBA methods do exist - the ExternE project has been running for over 15 years, and is the most established study of the external costs of energy in Europe (indeed probably the world).
  • NRPB recommended £20K per man sievert in 1993, but the use of this was patchy, and ceased following the ICRP recommendation
  • ExternE and other studies have led to £ values being used by UK Government for the cost of air pollution , carbon emission and the like.
optimisation and cba1
Optimisation and CBA
  • The 2008 Government shadow price of carbon was £26 per tonne CO2
  • At a Value of Life Lost (VOLL) of £1M, the entire UK nuclear industry radioactive discharge detriment would be £3M per annum
  • On this basis, Sizewell B annually saves £67M of carbon and could give a maximum detriment using the ‘inappropriate’ methodology of £0.6M
  • An assessment using an ‘appropriate’ method could guide both regulation and stakeholder views?
why is this important
Why is this important?

But after all, ‘it’s only money’, and ‘better safe than sorry’..................but actually this can be important

When applied to new nuclear power projects, inappropriate spend on discharge reductions may increase costs to the utility, and therefore, ultimately, power costs to us..... an inconvenience, one more kick to a faltering economy, but not, on its own, a disaster

But when applied to nuclear cleanup, more serious and immediate considerations emerge ..

why is this important1
Why is this important?

In the UK, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is charged with the mission to ‘deliver safe, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions to the challenge of nuclear clean-up and waste management .... never compromising on safety, or security, taking full account of our social and environmental responsibilities, always seeking value for money for the tax payer, and actively engaging with stakeholders’

The NDA uses public money which it receives from the Treasury – and funding is both short-term and subject to scrutiny


Clostridium Difficile


And it’s a lot of money …

“It is estimated that infections cost the NHS at least ₤2bn a year” - that’s £33 for each UK citizen

NDA’s 2008/9 budget £2.86B is £47 per head

why is this important2
Why is this important?

...so the Treasury is surely right to insist that Value for Money is demonstrated – and what can’t be demonstrated won’t get funded

So NDA must demonstrate how it balances

  • Spend on reduction of the hazard potential of stored waste
  • Spend on reduction of discharges during normal operations, waste retrieval and decommissioning
  • Spend on ongoing care and maintenance

This must surely entail having a methodology for aiding decisions in real situations .....like....


Increased ‘time at

hazard potential’ Δ(SED x years)

Reduced Hazard Potential



Cost Δ(£)




Reduced peak discharge Δ(µSv)



Reduced overall discharge Δ(man µSv)





Cost £M

Discharges Hazard Potential or ‘SED score’

this raises real questions which should be debated
This raises real questions which should be debated
  • BPEO and BPM studies cost money, but perhaps more importantly delay action.
  • The analysis and implementation, of the simplest extra abatement measure takes years rather than months
  • This increases the time for which raw, potentially mobile, waste is resident in old buildings
  • The incontrovertible fact is that old buildings don’t get any easier to keep safe
this raises real questions which should be debated1
This raises real questions which should be debated
  • People can easily get used to analysis, and unused to action
  • .... and regaining the ‘can do’ attitude after the odd decade of ‘care and maintenance’ is one of the more taxing management challenges
  • Around 0.001% of the stored inventory escapes from a typical large old Sellafield waste pond per annum – at some stage fixation on the 99.999% becomes appropriate – and it would be useful to know when in advance rather than in arrears!!

There is currently no financial cost/benefit valuation of any sort employed to assess the amount of spend which would be justified to give a given reduction in dose to the public.

The logic used to discredit collective dose valuation can be convincingly employed to argue, with reference to health and safety regulation, that the doses to the public are so low that any detriment from collective dose from the nuclear industry is in fact negligible.


If this logic were upheld, then any benefit from activities to further reduce discharges would be extremely small, and this should be reflected in reduced spending.

In reality, even if the former costing method, based on a 1993 NRPB valuation of £20K per man sievert of collective dose, is used, then the existing spend has exceeded the benefit in cases studied, and this is probably routine.

  • This is important
    • value for public funding is impaired,
    • finance for activities to reduce potential harm from NDA sites is likely to be reduced
    • timescales for site cleanup will be extended – both by funding constraints and, probably more seriously, by the time taken to justify miniscule increases in discharge
  • The authors believe that
    • a strong balance of stakeholder views disagrees strongly that the detriment of discharges can be ignored
    • on the other hand that some form of check or balance in the form of an element of cost/benefit measure is essential to curb delay and disproportionate spend.
    • One method of achieving this has been suggested, but it is the achievement of a measure which is important.