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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Nuclear waste watchdog abolished
Flask of nuclear waste on its way to Sellafield
Nuclear waste is an ongoing problem
An independent advisory committee on radioactive waste storage - which has been critical of the government - is being scrapped at a crucial time for the nuclear industry.

The government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) reports on how nuclear material is stored or disposed of, but is being disbanded because of costs.

Environmental officials say a new body is replacing many of its functions and the cost of running the old body - said to be 165,000 a year - cannot now be justified.

A spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) told BBC News Online the new Committee of Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) would also be independent and could criticise the government in equal measure.

But committee chairman Charles Curtis said the end of RWMAC "will leave a gaping hole in the structures for independent scrutiny of current radioactive waste management and regulatory practices", the Guardian reported.

It is important to realise the new body will be able to criticise the government
He made the comments in a letter to Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

Among RWMAC's recent successes was the identification of three million cubic metres of extremely low level waste such as building rubble which had not been catalogued by by British Nuclear Fuels or other nuclear watchdogs.

RWMAC member Andy Blowers told the Guardian: "It cannot be in the public interest to abolish a committee with a watchdog role at this time of change in the industry."

The Defra spokeswoman said: "The department can't afford to pay for two independent advisory commissions whose remits overlap considerably.

"It is important to realise the new body will be able to criticise the government. It will be a completely independent committee."

The post of chairman on the new body is yet to be filled, but the organisation will come into effect as RWMAC is phased out over the next six months.

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