Radioactive Waste Management: a further update - Science and Technology Committee Contents


In 1999, we recommended that UK radioactive waste should be disposed of in a deep geological repository. In 2003 the Government appointed the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to consult on and review options for the long-term disposal of radioactive waste. After CoRWM reported in 2006, the Government accepted that disposal in a deep geological repository, along with a robust interim storage strategy, was the way forward for the long-term management of radioactive waste. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) was charged with responsibility for implementing that strategy. In late 2007, CoRWM was re-constituted to act as an independent body to advise and scrutinise the work of the NDA. A white paper in 2008, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: a Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal, set out the Government's strategy ("the MRWS programme"). In this report, we focus on how CoRWM has performed since its re-appointment in 2007 and consider whether its remit has proved appropriate.

The existence of an independent and effective scrutiny body plays an important role in maintaining public trust and confidence in the Government's strategy for radioactive waste disposal. CoRWM must be able to show, therefore, that it is proactively scrutinising Government policy and the NDA's progress in implementing the MRWS programme. In this report, we make a series of recommendations designed to strengthen CoRWM, enabling it to better hold the Government to account on their progress in developing a geological disposal facility. Without on-going external pressure, it is possible that the MRWS programme may not be implemented as rapidly as is needed.

Since 2007, CoRWM has produced three reports, covering the main strands of the MRWS programme: geological disposal, interim storage, and research and development. In their response to the first two reports (the third response is still awaited), the Government have responded positively to many of CoRWM's recommendations. We welcome the Government's positive approach, although we note that it is too early as yet to tell whether effective action will be taken to ensure that the Government's words are translated into action.

It is essential that the MRWS programme should make good progress and, whilst we acknowledge that we are at an early stage in the MRWS programme, we are concerned that neither the Government nor CoRWM, in their evidence, gave the impression of having any sense of urgency. This is disappointing. We believe that CoRWM could play a more active role in driving forward the MRWS programme through scrutinising, and if necessary reporting on, the Government's progress. To help them carry out this role, we recommend that the Government should publish clear policy milestones for all aspects of the MRWS programme and include an assessment of their progress against these milestones in an annual report. We also recommend that the annual report should set out the progress the Government has made in meeting the recommendations made by CoRWM in their reports.

CoRWM's remit is to advise as well as to scrutinise. We are concerned therefore that CoRWM is not asked by the Government to comment formally on draft policy documents, either before or after they have been released for public consultation. We believe that CoRWM should provide advice to Government on any draft (as well as established) policies that have implications for the management of radioactive waste. We recommend that the Government should ensure that CoRWM is in a position to respond to Government consultations on policies affecting the MRWS programme with formal reports based on the comprehensive consultation and evidence gathering processes CoRWM usually employs.

To ensure that CoRWM is seen to be independent, we recommend that its work programme should not be subject to the agreement of sponsoring ministers.

Finally, while we think that CoRWM's current membership includes an appropriate range of scientific expertise to enable effective scrutiny of the current stage of the MRWS programme, we recommend that it should contain more members with experience of business and practical on-site operations and engineering.

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