PN030607ST

Embargo: 00:01 Sunday 3 June 2007

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659

GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS ON MANAGING RADIOACTIVE WASTE 'INCOHERENT AND OPAQUE' - LORDS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have today attacked the government's proposals for the next phase of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) programme.

In July 2006 the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended geological disposal of the UK's radioactive waste. CoRWM also recommended the setting-up of an independent body to oversee the MRWS programme€”echoing a recommendation made by the Science and Technology Committee as far back as 1999. The government have accepted the use of geological disposal but currently propose merely to set up an advisory group, rather than a truly independent overseeing body.

The Lords Committee therefore recommend that the government should establish a statutory body, independent of day to day government control and accountable to Parliament, to oversee the implementation of the geological disposal programme.

The Committee also criticise the institutional framework for the implementation stage of the MRWS programme. They label the government's plans 'incoherent and opaque' and urge the government to establish independent expert scrutiny and clear lines of accountability for the next stage of the MRWS programme.

The Committee also raise concerns about the government's approach to site selection for geographical disposal for radioactive waste. The Committee emphasise the importance of transparency and impartiality, and recommend that the government begin by 'screening out' geologically unsuitable areas, before looking at socio-economic criteria and inviting interested local communities to come forward with offers of participation. This phased approach is vital to avoid suspicion that site selection is politically driven, and to ensure that partnership with local communities is maintained.

Other recommendations the Committee make include:

  • Progress in radioactive waste management should be steady and measured. So far we have had 'years of procrastination followed by ... unseemly haste'.

  • The government should delay the publication of their forthcoming consultation document on MRWS, until an independent body has been put in place to scrutinise the programme

Commenting Lord Broers, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said:

"We have serious concerns about the way the government are moving forward with the MRWS programme. The decisions we take now on radioactive waste will affect future generations for thousands of years. The government's stop-start approach creates the impression that these decisions are being driven by short-term energy policy goals, rather than by careful and impartial consideration of the scientific and practical realities. The proposals they have announced so far have been incoherent and confusing.

"If the government want people to be confident about the safety of nuclear energy and the disposal of nuclear waste it is now time to appoint a truly independent, democratically accountable body to oversee the whole process.

"People don't have enough confidence in politicians or the government to support any scheme on nuclear waste that is controlled from Whitehall. Only an independent, accountable and expert body will be able to convince people nationally and locally to sign up to the programme."

Notes to Editors

1. The report, Radioactive Waste Management: an Update, is published by The Stationery Office, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 4th Report of 2006/07, HL Paper 109.

2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at: http://www.parliament.uk/hlscience.

3. This report is the fourth the Lords Science and Technology Committee have produced on radioactive waste management. The first Management of Nuclear Waste was published in 1999. Previous reports are available via the committee website (link above).

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Broers, please contact Owen Williams, Committee Press Officer on 020 7219 8659.

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