Fallout on nuclear committee puts waste storage plans into meltdown

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The Independent Online

Britain's nuclear policy is in crisis after the Government suspended one member of its committee on waste storage and another member resigned in protest.

Britain's nuclear policy is in crisis after the Government suspended one member of its committee on waste storage and another member resigned in protest.

This week an arbitrator appointed by the Department for the Environment will meet the two rebel members of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, to listen to their grievances.

CoRWM must recommend to the Government next summer how best to dispose of the estimated 1.7 million cubic metres of nuclear waste. But the two rebel members are thought to have been unhappy with the slow progress the committee is making. There are fears its deliberations could delay the search for a long-term solution to Britain's nuclear waste problem.

Currently, the waste, which has built up over the past 50 years, is stored in temporary sites dotted around the country. This makes it more vulnerable to terrorist attack than if it were stored in a single repository, which is an option preferred by many.

Not having a policy to deal with existing waste is also an obstacle to building new nuclear reactors. The Government wants to publish an energy White Paper raising the possibility of building new reactors soon after the general election. At the moment nuclear power provides around 20 per cent of Britain's electricity, but most reactors will close in the next 10 years.

Last month, Dr Keith Baverstock, the former head of the radiation protection division at the World Health Organisation, was suspended from the 13-member committee. Dr Baverstock had written to the Government to complain about the committee's management under its chairman, Dr Gordon MacKerron. Another member, Professor David Ball, suspended himself from the committee earlier this month in support of Dr Baverstock.

The remit of CoRWM, which was set up in 2003, is to consult with members of the public about the different options for waste storage before recommending a preferred option. One possible solution put forward for consultation is to blast the waste into outer space. Some members believe this non-scientific approach is a waste of time.

One source close to the committee said: "You do not make decisions about safety without bringing in the proper technical expertise. It puts people at risk unnecessarily. The progress over the first nine months has been pitiful. People are still worrying over the bleeding obvious."

The investigation into the two members' concerns will conclude early next month.

Dr MacKerron confirmed the suspension and resignation but declined to comment further.

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