Letter: Government needs to get to grips with nuclear waste

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report ('Cumbria gets its chance to influence policy', 6 August) that a study group 'drawn from two powerful committees of independent experts' is about to start public hearings into the selection of nuclear waste sites.

The expertise of these two bodies - the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and one of the Health and Safety Executive's advisory committees - is considerable, but their record of openness is a different matter.

Both are openly flouting a disclosure law, the 1992 Environment Information Regulations, which implements a European directive guaranteeing the public's right to know about environment risks. As a result, both are now the subject of a complaint to the European Commission.

RWMAC refuses to disclose information under the regulations, on the strange grounds that it is not 'under the control of' ministers - one of the regulations' criteria. Although its members are not civil servants, ministers appoint them, set the committee's terms of reference, fund it, see its working papers, must give permission before its advice can be published, can dismiss members at will and can abolish the committee at any time without reference to parliament.

The Health and Safety Executive refuses to disclose information about nuclear hazards under the regulations, explicitly rejecting the Department of the Environment's official guidance which makes clear that it should do so. It also unilaterally rejects part of the Government's new Open Government Code of Practice, refusing to comply with the requirement to disclose information obtained before the code's introduction in April.

For official bodies to reject Whitehall's own modest rules of disclosure suggests a remarkable commitment to secrecy. For bodies which ask the public to believe that their conclusions will be based solely on scientific evidence, free from political interference, it is also deeply counterproductive.

Yours sincerely,

MAURICE FRANKEL

Director

Campaign for Freedom of Information

London, EC1

12 August

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