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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Radioactive waste 'to be buried'
Spent nuclear fuel in a cooling pond at Sellafield, UK (BNFL)
Storage of nuclear waste and spent fuel is a major concern
Britain is to bury its radioactive waste, Environment Secretary David Miliband has told the House of Commons.

Disposal sites would only be built "in a geologically suitable area" and no community would be forced to take one.

There have been decades of debate on storing waste long term - it could take 40 years to build a repository.

Local councils are to be invited to volunteer to have a nuclear dump in their area. Those chosen will benefit from multi-million pound investment.

Mr Miliband said they would work in partnership with local authorities which volunteered to house sites - as recommended by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CORWM).

"We have made it clear that we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community," he told MPs.

He added: "Governments of all parties have struggled to develop a long term approach to this issue... I believe my statement today combines scientific rigour and clear accountability."

The process is likely to take a long time - some predict that constructing a multi-billion pound repository could take 40 years.

Countries such as France, Germany, Japan, Sweden and the US are also adopting "geological disposal" for radioactive waste, he said.

Finland is already building an underground facility and is on course to become the first country in the world to dispose of nuclear waste in such a way.

Like it or not, it is there and it has to be dealt with
Peter Ainsworth
Shadow environment secretary

Mr Miliband said the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, accountable to independent regulators, would be responsible for the process - not radioactive waste management group Nirex.

The NDA is responsible for "civil legacy" and "low level" radioactive waste and it wants one body to be responsible for all, he said.

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said there was a potential conflict of interest in giving responsibility to an authority which owns nuclear facilities.

But he said he welcomed the fact the government was following CORWM's advice as there was an urgent need to find a long-term solution to historic nuclear waste.

"Like it or not, it is there and it has to be dealt with," he said.

But Chris Huhne, for the Lib Dems, said Mr Miliband had "failed to give a copper-bottomed guarantee that communities would not ultimately have nuclear waste sites imposed on them".

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management report, published in July, said waste would need to be buried at least 500m (1,640ft) below the surface.

But it recognised that public resistance would be an obstacle - as it had in proposals for deep disposal in the 1980s, which were abandoned, and urged the government to seek "public willingness".

Deep disposal of nuclear waste (BBC)

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