Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report



Present policy and views of witnesses

6.1 Present United Kingdom policy is to dispose of ILW in a deep repository and to store vitrified HLW for about 50 years to allow it to cool sufficiently before its disposal[52]. Most LLW is disposed of (primarily to Drigg and also to approved landfills) and the remainder stored pending the availability of a deep repository. There are some materials that are held in store pending decisions on how or whether they are to be recycled or re-used in the future; some of these may, in due course, be declared to be wastes (eg spent fuel from nuclear-powered submarines; plutonium and uranium separated during reprocessing, see Chapter 7).

6.2 Several witnesses, including Cumbria County Council (pp 102-103) and the National Steering Committee of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (pp 218-219), called explicitly for a review of national policy, with wide ranging consultation. Other witnesses included such a policy review, or consultation on policy, or both, in their proposals for a new organisational structure for nuclear waste management (see, in particular, the nuclear industry evidence PP 280-285 and the RWMAC evidence PP 357-363).

6.3 There was agreement amongst many of our witnesses that there is a need for a policy which is stated more clearly, which commands widespread support and which has parliamentary endorsement. For example, BNFL (p 36), British Energy (p 25), Sir John Knill (ex Chairman of RWMAC, p 196 and Q 1005) and Sir Richard Morris (ex Chairman of Nirex, Q 1037) all called for a clear declaration of Government policy. Dr Fisk of DETR said that a solution which commanded "very wide consensus" was the only way forward (Q 6). Dr Hodgkinson of QuantiSci agreed, saying that it is necessary to start in such a way that "there is cross-party support, …wide acceptance that the programme should go ahead and that it represents the best national interest". His opinion was that "a new policy would stand or fall almost the day it is announced" and that "if people feel they have trust in the new strategy framework from the start, that would continue" (Q 164).

6.4 Views were also expressed that, hitherto, there has been only intermittent Government commitment to policy. RWMAC highlighted this, together with inadequacies in the legislative framework, as two reasons for the failure of the Nirex programme (P 361). Sir Richard Morris concurred: "We need leadership from Government on a continuous basis for a project which will be potentially controversial for the next, say, 100 years. Parliament must back the project and the process and organisational and management structure, perhaps through an annual report to Parliament" (Q 1037). The British Geological Survey (p 30) and the Joint Trade Unions (p 190) noted the same problem.

Our views

6.5 We believe that the present policy is flawed and fragmented. It does not identify all existing and potential wastes. It does not set out in enough detail the means by which all long-lived wastes are to be managed over the next century and beyond. It does not make it clear that more than one deep repository may be needed (see Chapter 4).

6.6 We have concluded that the Government should develop a fully comprehensive policy for the long-term management of all United Kingdom nuclear waste. This proposed policy should be put to Parliament for debate and decision, in the form of a Bill, so that the adopted policy has explicit parliamentary endorsement and statutory authority. At appropriate intervals, when major milestones in implementation are reached, the policy should be put to Parliament again. Similarly, if scientific or other developments occur which make a large change in the policy desirable, this change should be subject to parliamentary debate. In this way enough assurance can be provided that the chosen methods for the long-term management of nuclear waste will be carried out, over the decades (perhaps centuries) required.

6.7 It is essential that, before the policy is put to Parliament for approval, there is substantial public consultation. We recommend this take place on a Green Paper embodying the proposals which the Government is minded to put to Parliament, having studied our report. The consultation should be designed to involve as wide a range of people across the country as is feasible. The Government should approach this consultation with the objectives of:

(1) informing the public of the problem of nuclear waste and of the imperative need to deal with it;

(2) discussing with the public the solutions open to the Government;

(3) seeking views on the institutional framework proposed to handle the processes of decision-taking and implementation including, in the case of deep repositories, the process of site selection.

When the consultation is completed the Government should present to Parliament a full statement of the policy for which they seek approval, together with a report on the outcome of the consultation. These could be in the form of a White Paper. They would be followed by the Bill to establish the new policy.

6.8 Those consulted should include Government departments, regulatory agencies, the nuclear industry, environmental pressure groups, trade unions, local authorities and other interested groups within the public. We do not wish to prescribe the consultation process in detail but we note that the emphasis should be on dialogue, moving forward and building trust (see Chapter 5).

6.9 Our own opinion is that the best policy, indeed the only realistic policy, is a phased approach to geological disposal of long-lived wastes. This would combine surface storage with emplacement of wastes in one or more deep repositories in a monitored and retrievable way. The repository would be backfilled and sealed when there is sufficient confidence to do so; after this monitoring could continue and it would still be possible, but more difficult, to retrieve the wastes (see Chapter 4). We recognise that others may not accept our view immediately, particularly if they have not been consulted about how the policy is to be implemented. Consultations on the nature of the repository site selection process are especially important; we provide suggestions on this process later in this chapter (see paras 6.29-6.38).


6.10 Under current institutional arrangements radioactive waste management policy is developed by Government departments, led by DETR, who receive advice from, in particular, RWMAC. The main regulators are the Environment Agency, SEPA and HSE. The two principal disposal organisations are BNFL, which owns and operates Drigg, and UK Nirex Ltd. The shareholders in Nirex are BNFL (which has about 75% of the shares), British Energy and UKAEA; the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry holds one "golden share" and is represented on the Nirex board (P 279, Q77). Nirex operates via loans from its shareholders, which are to be repaid by providing disposal services. MoD now has a full working relationship with Nirex, and contributes funding and expertise to it, but is not a shareholder represented on the board (Q 298). Nirex has responsibility for disposal of ILW and the LLW which is to go to a deep repository. No organisation has yet been made responsible explicitly for disposal of HLW. (BNFL are responsible for storage of HLW and are regulated by HSE and the Environment Agency.)

6.11 There are likely to be some changes to the current organisational arrangements when the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies are in being. We have not examined the possible impact of devolution. Our recommendations are made for the United Kingdom as a whole and we leave it to others to interpret the relevant legislation in the future devolved situation.

Views of witnesses on advisory and implementing bodies

6.12 None of our witnesses believed that the present organisational arrangements for nuclear waste management are satisfactory. Of the changes suggested the smallest was to alter the name of Nirex (e.g. Professor Williams, p336), and the largest was to set up a new company or agency to replace Nirex and a new independent body to oversee it (e.g. the Royal Society P 366, NERC p 225, CORE p 107, the Geological Society p 137, Friends of the Earth p 132, p 279 and P 319, and Gosforth Parish Council pp 144-145). There were also suggestions to change the remit and composition of RWMAC (e.g. Sir John Knill, Q 1019; Sir Richard Morris, Q 1037; the National Steering Committee of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, p 222; Friends of the Earth West Cumbria and North Lakes, p 132). The most detailed proposals for a new organisational structure were put forward by RWMAC itself (PP 357-363), the civil nuclear industry (PP 280-285) and QuantiSci (pp 243-248 and PP 355-357). These proposals all assumed that geological disposal would continue to be the chosen method for the long-term management of nuclear waste. The main features of the proposals are shown in Table 2.

ProposerGovernment and Parliament RegulatorsAdvisory Bodies Disposal Organisation

DETR responsible for policy, with MoD and DTI

No formal involvement of Parliament

HSE, Environment Agency, SEPA

Responsible to Parliament via DETR Ministers

Funded by levies and charges on waste producers

RWMAC (reports to DETR Ministers)

NuSAC (previously ACSNI, reports to HSC)

UK Nirex Ltd, responsible to its nuclear industry shareholders, funded by loans from shareholders and by MoD

Deals with ILW and LLW

DETR responsible for policy, monitoring progress and ensuring results achieved

Parliament to set statutory framework and approve disposal concept and site selection

As now, but with strengthening of Environment Agency.

Regulators to work with new Commission on Radioactive Waste (CRW) to assess technical aspects of repository safety case at time of licensing

CRW to set programme for repository development, set siting methodology, review NWDC work, carry out R&D and communicate with all stakeholders. To have wide representation and a professional staff New Nuclear Waste Disposal Corporation (NWDC) to develop, construct and operate repository, under guidance and supervision of CRW

Funded and managed by industry

To deal with all long-lived wastes

DETR to develop and promote legislation, and set up Planning Inquiry Commission for site selection

Parliament to pass Act to set up Statutory Repository Board and Executive Disposal Company and set out need for Quality Plan

As nowNew Statutory Repository Board: a facilitating body to advise government throughout repository planning and development, to monitor work of Executive Disposal Company, to conduct independent technical reviews. Would report to Parliament at key stages New Executive Disposal Company to deliver successful repository project. Industry funded, with broader board membership than Nirex
BNFL, Nirex, British Energy, UKAEAGovernment to state policy, set up Advisory body, establish site selection process, endorse choice of site

No involvement of Parliament unless legislative changes required (eg on planning)

As now but with better co-ordination between HSE and environment agencies New Advisory Body to make recommendations to government on site selection criteria, commissioning research as necessary, to oversee site selection process, to facilitate consultations and to ensure adequate review of Disposal Company programme. Limited nuclear industry involvement New Disposal Company, funded by waste producers, with a culture of openness and transparency, with broader board membership than Nirex

6.13 QuantiSci propose that there should be a "Commission on Radioactive Waste (CRW)" with an "Executive" of technical and social science staff (pp 243-248 and pp 243-248). The CRW would: carry out consultations; establish a methodology for siting a repository and oversee its application; ensure that there is liaison between the repository developer, regulators, planning authorities and others; advise DETR and Parliament as to the progress of the programme; and act as a local negotiator at potential repository sites. The CRW would be a facilitating organisation, charged with implementing long-term national policy and acting in the best public interest, and would also carry out R&D (by sub-contracting work) (Q 169). Members of the CRW would be drawn from the science and technical community, the health professions, environmental organisations, trades unions, public interest groups and the nuclear industry. The CRW would be independent of the nuclear industry but funded by a levy on it, via a segregated fund.

6.14 RWMAC favour the creation of a "Statutory Repository Board" which would be, in essence, a facilitating body (pp 248-263 and PP 357-363). The Board would be charged with promoting the implementation of national policy and its primary role would be to advise Government throughout the process of planning and developing a repository. This process would be set out by Government in a "Quality Plan", which contained the programme with milestones. The Board would be made up of independent experts in appropriate disciplines. It would ensure openness and transparency in repository planning and development, advise on the detail of the site selection process specified by Government, and undertake technical reviews. The Board would report to Parliament at key stages, particularly during site selection (P 359).

6.15 BNFL, Nirex, British Energy and UKAEA propose that an "Advisory Body" be set up which is independent of the nuclear industry and which has a broadly-based membership (PP 283-284). The primary function of the Body would be to provide advice to Government and the composition of the Body might change as the nature of the required advice changed. The Body would consult widely on the repository site selection procedure and criteria, and would commission research to assist with site selection. The Body would report to Government on the extent of consensus and identify topics which need to be addressed in future (P 284).

6.16 In the framework suggested by QuantiSci there would be a second new organisation. This would be a "Nuclear Waste Disposal Corporation" (pp 243-248 and PP 355-357), which would be an implementing body, entirely funded and managed by the nuclear industry, and which would accept and dispose of all relevant wastes. The NWDC would be responsible for researching, developing, building, operating and closing a repository, and gaining all the necessary regulatory and planning approvals. It would be overseen by the CRW.

6.17 RWMAC propose that there should be an "Executive Disposal Company" which has the role of delivering a successful repository project, in accordance with the Government programme, additional advice from the Statutory Repository Board, and the requirements of regulatory and planning authorities (PP 357-363). The majority of the board of the Company would be independent of the nuclear industry. The Company would carry out site investigations, safety assessments of short-listed sites, and R&D, including the construction of an RCF. It would obtain all the necessary regulatory and planning approvals and would construct the repository.

6.18 BNFL, Nirex, British Energy and UKAEA also propose that there should be a new "Disposal Company" which would be funded by the waste producers (P 284). The Company would have a culture of openness and transparency. Its board would be composed of people from a wider range of backgrounds than the Nirex board and there would be fewer representatives of the waste producers. The Company would implement the site selection process which had been established by Government (based on the recommendations of the Advisory Body), carry out site investigations, commission R&D and offer the results for peer review, and design, build and operate the repository, obtaining the necessary regulatory and planning approvals (PP 280-285).

Our views

6.19 The proposals made above deal only with repository site selection and development. There is a need for a new body which has a wider remit, and the authority and permanence required to oversee the national nuclear waste management programme. We recommend that a 'Nuclear Waste Management Commission' be set up, eventually by statute, with a professional staff. This would be analogous to the Health & Safety Commission (and HSE), but with a much more specific remit and on a much smaller scale.

6.20 Initially, the Nuclear Waste Management Commission could be set up without legislation, with the task of undertaking consultations on a Green Paper covering a comprehensive policy for the management of all long-lived wastes (see paras 6.5-6.9), and undertaking any associated technical and economic analyses. It would report its findings to Government which would use them in formulating the policy to be put to Parliament in the form of a Bill for debate and decision (see para 6.7).

6.21 The Bill would establish policy and give the Commission powers to undertake its subsequent role. Its role would be, in essence, to make sure that the policy endorsed by Parliament is implemented. It would include carrying out research and making arrangements for research to be carried out, undertaking consultation on means to implement policy, and providing information. The workings of the Commission would be as open as possible, with a presumption that everything it produces will be published.

6.22 Members of the Commission would be appointed by the Secretary of State after appropriate consultation, and would be drawn from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure that no one point of view was dominant. The Commission's staff would include people qualified in the physical, biological and social sciences.

6.23 The Commission would report annually to the Secretary of State, who would place its report before Parliament. At appropriate intervals debates would be held on the Commission's reports; regular, explicit parliamentary approval is essential.

6.24 If, as we favour, it is decided to embark on a phased approach to geological disposal (see Chapter 4), a second body will be needed, of the type suggested by QuantiSci, RWMAC and the nuclear industry. This would be a 'Radioactive Waste Disposal Company', with the remit to investigate a small number of potential repository sites, to select the preferred site (or sites) and to design, construct, operate, monitor and eventually close the repository (or repositories), conducting R&D as necessary. The company should be able to retrieve the waste if this became necessary. This would be a nuclear industry organisation, structured so that it requires approval from the Commission for its work programme. Government involvement in the Company would be only via the publicly owned parts of the nuclear industry (BNFL, UKAEA and MoD). The Company would work in as open and transparent a way as possible, restricting confidentiality to the absolute minimum consistent with commercial operation.

6.25 It seems sensible, for the present, to maintain Nirex to fulfil two roles. One is to advise the nuclear industry on the acceptability of waste conditioning and packaging proposals (the issuing of 'letters of comfort'). The other is to help the United Kingdom to keep abreast of international progress in repository R&D and to maintain expertise. Once the new organisations are established, the roles of Nirex should be subsumed by them. Its "letters of comfort" role should be undertaken by the nuclear industry and its regulators. The Commission should be responsible for monitoring international progress and maintaining expertise.

6.26 When the Commission is set up RWMAC's role in advising Government on the management of nuclear wastes will no longer be required and the Committee should be disbanded.


6.27 In our proposed new organisational framework the Nuclear Waste Management Commission would be responsible for co-ordinating all United Kingdom research on the long-term management of nuclear waste. The main organisations which would sponsor research would be the Commission itself and, if geological disposal is pursued, the Radioactive Waste Disposal Company; the latter would need approval from the Commission for its research programme.

6.28 It is important that there is no loss of expertise or continuity while consultations on policy are underway and before the Commission is given its powers by statute. We suggest that during the consultation period the Commission takes over from the various DETR committees the role of co-ordination of research and that it has the task of ensuring that records of past research findings are completed and are preserved. This applies particularly to the research sponsored in the past by Nirex, but there is also a need to safeguard the findings of past regulatory research programmes.


6.29 No new national policy could be implemented unless it has the acceptance of those who would be most affected by it, namely those who live and work near proposed repository sites. It will be difficult to gain the acceptance of local authorities and local environmental pressure groups for a national policy unless it is clear how their views will be taken into account in implementing it and, in particular, unless it is clear what say they will have in the selection of repository sites (see Chapter 5). (We assume that the new United Kingdom nuclear waste management policy will entail the construction of one or more deep repositories (see Chapter 4). Such difficulties would arise with similar intensity if the new policy entailed construction of major centralised surface storage facilities, especially if these were to be outside the boundaries of current nuclear licensed sites.)

6.30 It would be for the Nuclear Waste Management Commission (see paras 6.19-6.23) to propose a site selection process, after the necessary consultations, and to submit it to Government and Parliament for approval. We set out here the conclusions we have reached about the main features of an appropriate process and how it would fit within the planning system. Our conclusions take account of the Ministerial policy statement Modernising Planning (DETR, 1998) and draw particularly on the evidence of Professor Grant, Mr Joyce and Mr Piatt (PP 341-343 and QQ 1212-1293).

6.31 We suggest that the first phase of site selection be carried out by the Commission, which could contract independent professionals if necessary (as proposed by RWMAC, see p254). This phase would consist of establishing qualitative criteria and using them with desk studies to identify a "long list" of, say, 15-20 potentially suitable sites. The criteria at this stage would be primarily, but not exclusively, geological and hydrogeological (QuantiSci p 245, RWMAC pp 254-256). A short list of sites for possible field investigation (including the drilling of deep boreholes) would then be derived by comparing the sites on the basis of a number of attributes. The attributes and the comparison method, including the weightings for the attributes, would be established by the Commission and made public. The final list of sites for field investigation would be derived by consultation or by using a volunteering approach (see Chapter 5). It would be the Commission that handled the consultation or 'volunteering' process. We envisage that volunteering would be on the basis that the local community could not withdraw the site once field investigations had begun, and that the final decision on a site would be for Government (see below).

6.32 Blight would occur when the short-listed sites are named (QQ 1274-1275). It would be appropriate to offer some form of compensation to mitigate this 'nuclear blight' and to enable people to derive some form of benefit from hosting a repository (see Chapter 5). Government should consider how this is to be achieved, bearing in mind that generosity may succeed but parsimony will not.

6.33 The field investigations at the short-listed sites would be carried out by the Radioactive Waste Disposal Company (see para 6.24), overseen by the Commission. All the results of the investigations would be published, for scientific peer review, and would be reported to the local populations and their elected representatives in a form intended to be comprehensible to non-experts. If it became clear during the investigations that a short-listed site is not suitable, the Company would inform the local community and withdraw it. The quantity of waste which a site could hold will have been considered throughout the derivation of the long and short lists but it will probably only be during site investigations that capacities can be determined with any accuracy. By the end of the investigations it must be clear whether it will be sufficient to construct one repository or whether more are required.

6.34 When sufficient data were available, the Company would identify its preferred site or, if more than one repository is needed, sites. The selection would take place within the framework of a formal environmental impact assessment, in which all the short-listed sites are compared, in compliance with European Directive requirements to consider alternatives (Q 1237). The Commission would ensure that the selection process is open, transparent, reasonable and robust, but would not endorse the chosen site or sites.

6.35 We believe that Parliament should be involved at this stage, as envisaged in the parts of Modernising Planning that deal with major infrastructure projects, and as suggested by our witnesses on planning matters (PP 341-343, QQ 1262-1264). One approach is to establish a procedure modelled on that in the Transport and Works Act 1992 for schemes of national significance. Under such a procedure the Company would make an application to develop a preferred site, for approval by Ministerial order. Because the scheme would, by definition, be of national significance, the Secretary of State would refer the proposal in the application to Parliament. He could also make available to Parliament the Environmental Statement and other supporting documents. Single debates would be held in each House on a motion moved by a Minister to approve the proposals. If both Houses pass the resolution the application would go forward for more detailed consideration at a public inquiry, which would focus primarily on local matters (PP 341-343). Application of this type of procedure to nuclear waste repositories would require primary legislation (see pp14-15 of Modernising Planning): this could be part of the Act which sets out the national nuclear waste management policy and gives the Commission its statutory powers.

6.36 At the public inquiry the environmental impact of the repository would be considered in detail. It is likely that objectors would argue against national policy and question the site selection process, as well as raising local issues. The Inspector should not rule out any arguments which are relevant. Nevertheless, the debate should be less extensive than at previous public inquiries on nuclear matters because the national policy will have been endorsed by Parliament, and the site selection process will have been established via consultation and carried out openly with Parliamentary involvement (Q 1236). The outcome of the public inquiry would be a recommendation from the Inspector that the repository should or should not go ahead at that site. In the latter case the Inspector might indicate which of the other short-listed sites appeared preferable or refer the matter back to the Company. The final decision would be made by the Secretary of State, based on the Inspector's report, and would be embodied in an order.

6.37 We believe that a process like that outlined above has the features necessary to balance national need with local concerns in an open and explicit way. The process would not give the local community a right of absolute veto but it would give them many opportunities to make their views known, and for those views to be taken into account. It would ensure that they are consulted at every stage, provided with all the relevant information and offered compensation for blight.

6.38 Table 3 summarises the actions which would be taken by Parliament, Government, the Commission, the Company and the regulators if the approach described above is followed, and gives very approximate timings. We believe that the approach would achieve the goal of emplacing wastes in repositories before modern surface stores have to be extensively refurbished or replaced (see Chapter 4), but all phases of consultation may take longer than we have indicated. It is important that the process is thorough and, because of its duration, that it is set in train by Government without delay.

Table 3 Possible Sequence of Actions by Parliament, Government, Nuclear Waste Management Commission, Radioactive Waste Disposal Company and Regulators
Year (approx)Parliament GovernmentCommission CompanyRegulators
1      Decides to develop comprehensive policy and issues Green Paper, indicating that it is minded to pursue phased geological disposal                 
2      Sets up Commission without its statutory powers, to conduct consultations                 
           Establishes complete inventory of long-lived wastes Consults and recommends policy and site selection process      Input to consultation
     Debates White Paper Formulates policy, issues White Paper, drafts Bill to establish policy, Commission, site selection process, and changes to planning law                 
4Debates, amends and passes Bill      Formulates research strategy Set up by industry     
5Receives Commission's first annual report Input to long list of sitesBegins consultation and desk studies to establish long list of repository sites; begins research Begins R&D,

input to long list of sites

Establish relationship and dialogue with Company
6-7Receives Commission's

annual reports, reaffirms policy

Input to short listing of sitesStarts comparisons of sites on long list, and consultation and/or volunteering to derive short list of sites Input to short listing of sitesInput to short listing of sites
8Receives Commission's annual report containing short list of sites      Continues research, monitors work of Company Begins investigation of short listed sites, consulting with local populations Monitor work of Company
9-14Receives Commission's annual reports, reaffirms policy      Continues research, monitors work of Company Continues investigation of short listed sites, consulting with local populations and publishing results Monitor work of Company, establish mechanisms to assess safety cases
15Receives Commission's annual report      Monitors site comparison and selection, comments on draft Environmental Statement Compares sites and selects preferred site, issues draft Environmental Statement Start assessment of pre-construction safety cases
16Receives Commission's

annual report

           Applies for order to allow repository development at preferred site      
17Considers application for Order Calls local Public Inquiry           Complete assessment of pre-construction safety cases
18-19Receives Commission's annual reports      Gives evidence to Public Inquiry Puts case at Public InquiryGive evidence to Public Inquiry
20Receives Commission's annual report Decides whether repository development should proceed, on basis of Inspector's report                 
21Receives Commission's annual report      Monitors work of Company Begins repository constructionStart assessment of pre-operational safety cases
22-23Receives Commission's annual reports      Monitors work of Company Constructs repository
24           Monitors work of Company Begins waste emplacementComplete assessment of pre-operational safety cases


6.39 It has been suggested to us that the United Kingdom arrangements for funding nuclear waste management research, regulation and implementation could be made more transparent (e.g. Barker, 1998[53]). We also have concerns about continuity of funding over decades, and perhaps centuries, bearing in mind the possibility that the nuclear industry may cease to exist in its present form.

6.40 The principal new mechanism proposed to us is the setting up of a segregated fund, to which the whole of the nuclear industry would contribute, and which would be administered by some independent body (see, for example, the Environment Agency pp 122-123). This would seem similar to the funding arrangement in Sweden. It would help to allay concerns that financial provisions for nuclear waste management are inadequate (see, for example, p 220, Q 367).

6.41 We have sympathy with the proposal for a segregated fund. We recommend that the Nuclear Waste Management Commission be financed by such a fund derived from a levy on the whole nuclear industry (privately and publicly owned, civil and defence). We would also be in favour of financing other nuclear waste management activities in this way, particularly repository development, operation and closure. However, we are aware that such an arrangement would be unique to nuclear waste and may be difficult to accommodate within the present system of Government funding. We recommend that the Commission consults on funding arrangements and Government decides following this consultation, subject to Parliamentary approval. Funding arrangements would have to feature in the proposed Bill (6.21).


6.42 It is not part of the scope of this enquiry to comment in great detail on the roles and responsibilities of the organisations which regulate the nuclear industry. Nevertheless there are some issues which arose from the evidence presented to us which merit discussion. These concern the three principal civilian regulators, the Environment Agency (for England and Wales), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). They also concern the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which regulates those parts of its own sites which are not subject to the civilian regulatory regime.

6.43 In evidence to us the Environment Agency expressed concern that they have no legal powers to regulate the storage of radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites (p 122). Their only powers over storage, and also over waste conditioning and packaging, are those deriving from a memorandum of understanding with HSE. A major problem with this arrangement is that until the Environment Agency receives a formal application for authorisation to dispose of stored waste, it cannot recover any costs of regulating the waste, nor can it require the owner of the waste (or the operator of the disposal facility for which the waste is destined) to provide it with information. This could lead to considerable difficulties if a deep repository were designated initially to be a storage, rather than a disposal, facility because the Agency could not regulate the repository or inspect the waste (Q 588).

6.44 To rectify this situation the Agency proposes that it be given a new statutory power over the storage of radioactive wastes on nuclear licensed sites, to co-exist with the HSE powers. Under the new power the Agency's approval would be required for arrangements to treat, package and store waste, and the Agency would inspect these arrangements and require improvements to be made if necessary. The power would enable the Agency to fulfil its responsibility to protect the environment during the long-term storage of wastes and to ensure that wastes are maintained in a suitable condition for ultimate disposal (PP 303-306).

6.45 Further advantages of the proposed new power would be to increase the information available to the public about waste storage arrangements, and to make the Agency involved fully at a much earlier stage in repository design and development (p 122). The Agency recognises that there are balances to be drawn between, on the one hand, health and safety, and on the other, environmental protection. It considers that the proposed new power would help to make the balancing process explicit and transparent, with public consultation (P 306). (The Nuclear Installations Act contains no provisions for public consultation, or for disclosure of information about wastes held on site. The only time when consultation and disclosure must take place is when an application is made, under the Radioactive Substances Act, to dispose of waste.)

6.46 Local interest groups (see, for example, p22) and local authorities (see, for example, p101) agree with the Environment Agency that the present situation is not satisfactory. The nuclear industry would also wish to see earlier formal involvement of the Environment Agency in repository development (see, for example, p36). HSE expressed the view that it is working arrangements that matter, rather than the statutory division of roles, and that the arrangements between itself and the Environment Agency (and its predecessors) have always been satisfactory (p 161, Q 655, Q 676, Q 692). HSE also pointed out that it is introducing a new system of reporting back to the public, via the local liaison committees at nuclear licensed sites, on regulatory activities, and that it is conscious of the possible implications of a Freedom of Information Act (Q 696).

6.47 These differences of view led us to ask the Environment Agency and HSE whether there would be merit in having only one regulator to cover all aspects of nuclear sites (QQ 588-598, QQ 675-693). Both organisations said that it is in the nature of the problem that there can be conflicts of priority between health and safety and environmental protection, and that this situation could not be changed by changing regulatory responsibilities. Dual regulation is already established in many other areas and is being extended, for example to sites that constitute a major accident hazard (P 304).

6.48 We conclude that it would not be worthwhile to make all the changes to primary legislation which would be required to give one organisation all the regulatory responsibility for nuclear sites. It would be contrary to other regulatory developments to do so and would not necessarily make for more constructive and open balancing of health, safety and environmental protection. We agree that the Environment Agency should be given the proposed new power it seeks over waste treatment and storage, because we feel that the advantages in terms of its formal involvement in the decision process and an increase in transparency outweigh any possible disadvantages of dual regulation with HSE.

6.49 A further issue is the regulatory position at MoD sites. Those MoD sites which are operated by private contractors are subject to the full civilian regulatory regime. Other MoD sites are visited by inspectors from HSE and the environment agencies but are legally regulated by MoD themselves. In some instances there are differences from one part of a site to another. For example, most of the Devonport Royal Dockyard is a nuclear licensed site, operated by DML, but all testing and running of the reactors in nuclear submarines is done on parts of the site operated by MoD, under MoD's own regulatory regime (Q 338). There is general agreement that it is desirable to bring all MoD sites under the full civilian regulatory regime as soon as practicable, but progress is at present very slow (QQ 349-350). We wish to see ways found to speed it up.


6.50 From our discussions with staff of international agencies (the European Commission, NEA and IAEA) we concluded that these agencies work well as fora for discussions amongst nuclear industries and their regulators, but poorly as catalysts for action (see Chapter 3). It is particularly disappointing that the agencies have not succeeded in promoting regional solutions to nuclear waste management for groups of countries which have relatively small amounts of waste to deal with and for countries which lack the infrastructure or resources to establish their own repositories.

6.51 Our view is that it is entirely appropriate for countries which have substantial waste legacies to develop their own deep repositories for their own wastes. In some of these countries, including the United Kingdom, more than one repository may be required and it would not be sensible to import waste from elsewhere for reasons of public acceptability. For countries with less waste the best policy is to pool resources.

6.52 We recognise that it is likely to be ineffectual for the United Kingdom to promote or support regional repository initiatives until we have made more progress in solving our own nuclear waste problem. We recommend that when our policy consultation is complete, and if the chosen policy is phased geological disposal, this country should take a lead in international discussions on regional repositories and offer help to those countries that need to develop them, but lack the resources. Help is particularly needed in eastern European countries.


6.53 We recommend that the Government should develop without delay a fully comprehensive policy for the long-term management of all nuclear waste. The policy should have explicit endorsement by Parliament, as well as a large measure of public acceptance.

6.54 To achieve public acceptance it is essential that the policy is the subject of wide-ranging consultation. We suggest that, having considered our report, the Government issues a Green Paper which states the problem, the possible solutions and the policy that the Government is minded to put to Parliament, and which seeks views on the principal means for implementation of that policy, including, for deep repositories, the site selection process. The consultation on the Green Paper should involve as many sections of the public as is feasible. At the end of it the Government should report the results to Parliament; this could be done via a White Paper that contains a full statement of the proposed policy. The development process should lead to a parliamentary Bill to establish the policy and the institutional framework for implementing it. It is essential that the policy is endorsed by Parliament at regular intervals during its implementation.

6.55 We recommend that a new organisation be set up to oversee the implementation of policy. This should be a "Nuclear Waste Management Commission", which is outside day-to-day government and which has authority and permanence. Members of the Commission should be drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and it should have scientific, technical and administrative staff. The workings of the Commission should be as open as possible, with a presumption that everything it produces will be published. There would be advantages in setting up the Commission initially in a non-statutory way and giving it the task of consultation on a comprehensive policy. The Bill which establishes the policy should give the Commission its powers of oversight.

6.56 Our view is that the United Kingdom should embark on a phased approach to geological disposal, in which surface storage leads to emplacement in one or more deep repositories, initially in a monitored and retrievable way. The Commission should carry out the first stage of a repository site selection process, consulting as necessary, perform research and make arrangements for research to be carried out, and provide information to whoever needs it.

6.57 Another new organisation should be set up with the remit to design, construct, operate and eventually close the repository (or repositories), conducting R&D as necessary. This "Radioactive Waste Disposal Company" should be a nuclear industry organisation (including the Ministry of Defence) which would need approval from the Commission for its work programme. There should be a presumption that the work of the Company will be available for public scrutiny.

6.58 For the present, Nirex should be maintained but when the Commission and the Company are established its roles should be subsumed by them. When the Commission is set up RWMAC should be disbanded.

6.59 The Commission should be responsible for co-ordinating all United Kingdom research on the long-term management of nuclear waste. It should take over this role during the consultation period and ensure that records of past research findings are preserved.

6.60 The process of selecting a repository site (or sites, if more than one repository is needed) should be open and transparent, and should involve Parliament and Government. The Commission should derive a long list of potential sites and, from this, a short list. It should then oversee the Company's selection of the preferred site(s). The Company's choice of site(s) should be debated in Parliament and examined at public inquiry. The final decision should be made by the Secretary of State.

6.61 The Commission should be financed by means of a segregated fund, derived from a levy on the whole nuclear industry (civil and defence). The Commission should consult those concerned about the desirability and practicability of funding repository development, operation and closure in a similar way, and make recommendations to Government.

6.62 When the Commission is set up some changes should be made to regulatory arrangements. The Environment Agency should be given a new statutory power over the storage of wastes on nuclear licensed sites. Efforts to bring all Ministry of Defence sites under the full civilian regulatory regime should be increased substantially and the Government should bring forward a timetable for achieving this objective. Further changes to regulatory arrangements might be needed as the Commission's work proceeds.

6.63 We recommend that when policy consultation is complete, and if the chosen policy is geological disposal, this country should take a lead in international discussions on regional repositories and offer help to those countries that need, but lack the resources, to develop them. Help is particularly needed in eastern European countries.

6.64 We strongly recommend that the Government starts work promptly and proceeds in a steady and measured way without interruption. The programme for repository development is a long one and cannot be rushed. Delay in starting the programme will increase the likelihood that extensive refurbishment or replacement of surface stores will be required.

52   Review of Radioactive Waste Management Policy, Final Conclusions, Cm 2919, 1995. Back

53   Barker, Fred, A Framework for Policy Review, Paper presented at the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Conference on the Future of UK Radioactive Waste Policy, October 1997. Proceedings published by Thomas Telfords, 1998. Back

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