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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December, 2004, 09:09 GMT
Progress urged on nuclear waste
Radioactive waste disposal remains a contentious issue
Britain has failed to make progress on managing radioactive waste despite fears over security prompted by the 11 September attacks, peers have said.

The Lords science committee expressed dismay at the failure to come up with long-term solutions to the problem.

It said a global consensus had been reached on how to dispose of waste and a new advisory body should not have to start with a "blank sheet of paper".

But environment minister Elliot Morley said the issue was being addressed.

The government seems to have been sitting on its hands for around seven years. We have really had no progress
Lord Oxburgh
He said: "It's true this issue has been going on for a very long time."

It was a very complex one which was controversial, but ministers were tackling it, he said.

"It's quite right and proper that we have a broad based committee with a range of experiences, that we have a full and detailed consultation so we involve the whole process so that it is open and transparent."

Chairman of the House of Lords science and technology committee Lord Oxburgh said: "The government seems to have been sitting on its hands for around seven years. We have really had no progress.

"The principle problems have really been solved to the satisfaction of many people in other countries."

Present 'vulnerability'

In 1976, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said there was an urgent need to find a long-term solution to storing radioactive waste, he said.

"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."

Britain had generated radioactive waste for more than half a century and had still failed to decide how to deal with it, he said.

"We are dismayed by the government's lack of urgency."

Billions of pounds

But Mr Morley said there was a danger the Lords select committee was "ignoring the mistakes of the past when there were narrowly based scientific committees and inadequate consultation".

The government needed to involve the public in decision making and account for its decisions, he said.

"The lack of such involvement has been a key contribution to the failure of previous programmes. The old 'decide-announce-defend' approach is unacceptable."

Mr Morley added that solutions to disposing of nuclear waste "cost billions of pounds and take decades to implement".

"Taking a little time now to get the decision right represents time and money well spent," he argued.

"We cannot simply rely on what other countries see as the right solution: we must consider, and be able to demonstrate, what is right for the UK."

Report recommendations

Peers came up with a series of recommendations for the new advisory body, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM).

  • It should stop considering options already jettisoned elsewhere in the world such as blasting waste into space and focus on various methods of underground storage.

  • Extra members with the relevant scientific and technical expertise should be appointed to the CoRWM 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.

  • Ministers should prevent further delays in developing a long-term radioactive waste management strategy to be used as an excuse for deferring decisions on the future of nuclear power.

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