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

CHAPTER 1: Introduction


1.  This is the fifth report that the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has published on the subject of radioactive waste management.[1] Our first report, Management of Nuclear Waste, was published in 1999 after a public inquiry in 1997 refused to grant Nirex planning permission to develop a rock characterisation facility near Sellafield, then seen to be a necessary step toward the development of a long-term disposal facility for radioactive waste. In that report we considered various methods for managing nuclear waste and concluded that disposal in a deep geological repository was the most feasible and desirable method of dealing with radioactive waste. We recommended that the Government create a new statutory body to develop an overarching and comprehensive implementation strategy.

2.  We published our second report, Managing Radioactive Waste: the Government's consultation, in 2001 and expressed our disappointment at the "slow progress" to date. We noted that the Minister seemed to feel "little sense of urgency" about the need for progress.[2] In 2003, the Government appointed the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to consult on and review the options for the long-term disposal of radioactive waste. Our 2004 report, Radioactive Waste Management, reviewed the role and performance of CoRWM, and criticised it for focusing on public and stakeholder engagement to the exclusion of scientific analysis of the available options. When CoRWM reported in 2006, however, we felt it had produced a "well balanced report".[3] It had three central recommendations:

  • geological disposal presented the best available approach for the long-term management of radioactive waste, while in the meantime a robust programme of interim storage was required until a geological disposal facility became available;
  • the site of any disposal facility should be determined not only by geological criteria, but by a process in which potential host communities would express a willingness to participate in return for community packages which would aim to enhance the well-being of the community; and
  • an independent body be appointed to oversee the implementation process, including a research and development programme, the siting strategy and public and stakeholder engagement.

3.  The Government's response to CoRWM's report was published in October 2006. They accepted that geological disposal, coupled with a robust interim storage strategy, was the way forward for the long-term management of nuclear waste in the UK, and made a commitment to explore an approach based on volunteerism (that is, willingness to participate). However, instead of creating an independent body to oversee the implementation process, the Government charged the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) with responsibility for developing and ensuring delivery and implementation of interim storage and geological disposal programmes, and decided to appoint an independent advisory committee to provide advice and scrutiny on the NDA's work. At the end of 2007, a reconstituted CoRWM, with modified terms of reference and a new membership, was appointed to carry out this role.

4.  Our 2007 report, Radioactive Waste Management: an Update, focused on the institutional arrangements for implementing the next stage of the Government's programme for managing radioactive waste and in particular the role of a revised CoRWM. We concluded that its proposed remit, as laid out in the Government's response to CoRWM's report in 2006, was "highly confusing", and raised questions about its independence. We concluded that it was imperative that it should have the necessary independence and authority to scrutinise the Government's proposals for implementation. Some of these concerns had been met by the time a revised CoRWM was appointed, with CoRWM's revised terms of reference placing a greater emphasis on its scrutiny role.

5.  In June 2008, the Government published a white paper, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: a Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal ("MRWS programme"), which set out plans for long-term geological disposal, the safe and secure interim storage of waste, and the research and development needs to support these objectives. The reconstituted CoRWM published three major reports during 2009 scrutinising the progress of the MRWS programme, covering interim storage, geological disposal and research and development. The Government have published a response to the first two of these reports; they will be responding to the third during 2010.

Purpose and scope of the inquiry

6.  The purpose of this inquiry was to assess how the reconstituted CoRWM has performed in the past two years, to consider whether its remit has proved appropriate, and to gauge its impact on the implementation of the Government's MRWS programme. We launched our inquiry in January 2010. Given the relatively short period of time available to us prior to the dissolution of Parliament, rather than issuing a general call for evidence, we invited written evidence from selected organisations, representing a range of views both within and without Government. In addition, representatives from CoRWM and the Government gave oral evidence.

7.  We would like to thank all of our witnesses for their contribution to this short inquiry. The membership and interests of the sub-committee are set out in Appendix 1 and those who submitted written and oral evidence are listed in Appendix 2. The call for evidence with which we launched our inquiry is reprinted in Appendix 3.

1   The Committee's previous reports were: Management of Nuclear Waste, 3rd Report, Session 1998-1999 (HL Paper 41), Managing Radioactive Waste: the Government's consultation, 1st Report, Session 2001-2002 (HL Paper 36), Radioactive Waste Management, 5th Report, Session 2003-2004 (HL Paper 200), and Radioactive Waste Management: an Update, 4th Report, Session 2006-2007 (HL Paper 109). Back

2   Managing Radioactive Waste: the Government's consultation, 1st Report, Session 2001-2002 (HL Paper 36), introduction. Back

3   Radioactive Waste Management: an Update, 4th Report, Session 2006-2007 (HL Paper 109), p. 8. Back

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