Broadside for Lords’ report

A SUFFOLK environment consultant who was formerly a member of the Government committee examining radioactive waste management options has criticised a Parliamentary report which suggests progress towards developing a deep disposal facility is too slow.

Plans to store the waste in a cavern excavated deep inside a stable rock formation have been discussed for decades but the UK is a long way away from finding a suitable site and finding evidence that such a facility will be safe.

The new House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report focuses on the performance and remit of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM)and suggests neither it nor the Government are conveying any sense of urgency to move forward “with all possible speed”. The report concludes that the CoRWM could, in its role as independent scrutiniser and adviser, better hold the Government to account on the progress being made.

Lord Broers, chairman of the Lords committee, said: “Previous reports from the Committee on this subject have all expressed disappointment at the slow progress being made by the Government on this important issue, and we remain concerned that there isn’t a great enough sense of urgency from either the Government or CoRWM to push forward the development of a geological disposal facility as quickly as possible.

His criticism of CoRWM was that members were not not asking the right questions of Government and, more importantly, of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), set up to decommission ageing nuclear power stations, including Sizewell A and Bradwell. But Pete Wilkinson, a Halesworth-based consultant who was a member of CoRWM until last year, said the programme should not be rushed.

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“There are many and important outstanding technical issues, not to mention ethical and process issues) which need long and painstaking research and which may not prove to be soluble problems at all.

“Therefore, the ability of the regulators and the NDA to demonstrate that deep geological disposal is feasible is limited and possibly not capable of being demonstrated at all. There are limitations on research - the research and development programme just might not deliver what you want and expect it to deliver.

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“The Government’s approach has been that if there’s a problem, it has no option but to solve it. What they fail to recognise and what CoRWM failed to recognise all the way through, even when I was on the committee, is that you have to solve the problems first to demonstrate that deep geological disposal is possible and safe before you commit to a policy of disposal and most certainly before you commit to generating a new generation of much hotter and more radioactive waste.”

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