Lords committee criticises 'lack of urgency' over radioactive waste

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The Independent Online

Slow progress by the Government in developing a coherent radioactive waste management policy is highlighted today in a damning report by a powerful committee of peers.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee said it was "astonished" that without consulting its own scientific experts, the Government instructed a new advisory body, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to start from a "blank sheet of paper" despite an overwhelming international scientific consensus that underground disposal or storage was a safe long-term solution.

Lord Oxburgh said: "In 1976 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution emphasised the urgent need to find a long-term solution to storing radioactive waste.

"In March 1999 and again in November 2001 this Committee argued the case for rapid action, but still no firm progress has been made, even though the events on 9/11 raise questions of the vulnerability of existing storage facilities.

"We are dismayed by the Government's lack of urgency. The UK has generated radioactive waste for more than half a century and still hasn't decided how to deal with it. Ministers seem to be using perpetual consultation exercises to put off making the crucial decisions."

The Committee said:

* The CoRWM should stop wasting considering options that have been discarded by the rest of the international community - such as blasting waste into space -. Instead it should focus on the variants of underground storage or disposal;

* The CoRWM also appears to lack the relevant scientific and technical expertise to assess the various options for radioactive waste management;

* Ministers failed to take adequate advice when the CoRWM was established, failing to consult Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser;

* The Government should either appoint extra members to the CoRWM with expertise in earth science, materials or civil engineering or establish a technical sub committee;

* The Government should no longer allow delays in developing a long-term radioactive waste management strategy to be used as a pretext for deferring decisions on the future of nuclear power.

Sir David Wallace, vice president of the Royal Society, said: "How we manage and dispose of radioactive waste is a serious and urgent problem that needs to be resolved, regardless of whether a new generation of nuclear power stations is built.

"The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management must be informed by the best possible scientific advice in order to determine the most appropriate option for long term management of radioactive waste.

"The Royal Society wrote to Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment, earlier in the year, expressing its concern that this committee currently does not have adequate expertise in this area.

"The Society believes that as well as taking into account wider and informed public views, it is vital that the independent scientific expertise of CoRWM is strengthened to allow it to effectively obtain and evaluate the detailed scientific and technical information that will be required to guide this debate.

"The committee must both engage in a genuine public dialogue and be informed by the best science on the issue of radioactive waste management if it is to be seen to be authoritative, independent and therefore able to command public confidence."