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GOVERNMENT LOOKS FOR PUBLIC CONSENSUS ON MANAGING RADIOACTIVE WASTE

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More than 10,000 tonnes of radioactive waste are currently stored in ...
More than 10,000 tonnes of radioactive waste are currently stored in

the United Kingdom, pending a decision on their long-term future.

Even if no new nuclear plants are built, and reprocessing of spent

fuel ends when existing plants reach the end of their working lives,

another 500,000 tonnes of waste will arise during their clean-up over

the coming century. Some of the substances produced will be

radioactive and potentially harmful for hundreds of thousands of

years.

To help stimulate thorough public debate on the options for managing

the UK's radioactive waste, environment minister Michael Meacher

yesterday published a paper inviting comments on a number of issues.

These include whether any or all of the nation's plutonium should be

regarded as a waste product and therefore be included in the

management strategy.

The government's advice from its radioactive waste management

advisory committee (RWMAC) on managing radioactive waste was also

published yesterday.

Involving as many people as possible in the debate on how radioactive

waste should be managed over the coming centuries will be key to

getting the right decision for this and future generations. Support

for future policy can only be achieved through thorough public

debate, Michael Meacher said, as he announced plans for wide-ranging

and comprehensive consultation.

Managing Radioactive Waste Safely sets out proposals from the

government and the devolved administrations on how best to initiate a

UK-wide debate on future radioactive waste management policy.

Through opinion polls, the internet, workshops, citizens' juries,

consensus conferences, stakeholder dialogues, local authority and

community groups and research panels, hundreds of thousands of the

UK's population could give their views on managing radioactive waste

over the coming centuries.

To ensure that all the information provided is accurate, objective

and complete, the government and devolved administrations propose

setting up an independent advisory body. This would advise on what

information there is, what more is needed, and when enough has been

gathered and analysed to decide how radioactive waste should be

managed. It will help seek the public's views, for example, on

whether waste should be put in an underground repository; or be

stored until more is known about its risks and better ways of dealing

with it or whether indeed there are other options. Only then can the

debate start on where in the UK we should keep this waste in the long

term.

Mr Meacher said:

'Protecting the public, workers and the environment now and in the

future is the top priority for the government and devolved

administrations. Any decisions made on managing radioactive waste

cannot and must not be rushed. The legacy of a wrong decision could

be catastrophic.

'The solution we find must protect not only our own future, but that

of generations to come.

'That solution may take many decades to implement. We need to start

the national debate today'.

The paper sets out a five stage proposed programme of action for

taking decisions:

Stage one

This six month consultation about the proposed programme; considering

responses; planning the next stage 2001-2002

Stage two

Research and public debate, to examine the different waste management

options and recommend the best option 2002-004

Stage three

Further consultation seeking public views on the proposed option

2005

Stage four

Announcement on the chosen option, seeking public views on how this

should be implemented 2006

Stage five

Legislation, if needed 2007

The shape and speed of the programme may change to reflect future

developments, including public responses to today's consultation

paper. Although the government would like to press ahead as quickly

as possible, it is determined to ensure that the overall strategy

wins public confidence.

Notes

1. Managing Radioactive Waste Safely - proposals for developing a

policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the

UK will be available on the DEFRA website.

Hard copies are available from: Claire Herdman, Department for the

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 4/F7 Ashdown House,

123 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6DE.

2. An on-line debate is also being held on the subject. To join in,

anyone can click here.

3. In this paper the Government and the Devolved Administrations

are launching a national debate which will lead over a period of

years to a decision on the management of low, intermediate and

high-level radioactive wastes. The aim is to encourage a debate via

traditional and new techniques so as to inspire public confidence

in the decisions and the way in which they are implemented. The

period of consultation on this first phase will be six months long.

4. The radioactive waste advisory committee (RWMAC) today publishes

its advice to government on the way in which it believes future

policy for the long-term management of the UK's solid radioactive

waste should be decided. RWMAC is suggesting a fresh approach, one

that is based on fundamental principles of openness, accessible

decision-making and fairness. RWMAC is keen that for the first

time, all the practicable solutions need to be evaluated on, as far

as possible, a common bases, both openly and transparently, to

decide what is best. The committee has advised government on the

form of process that it believes needs to be gone through to arrive

at a decision. The committee is also suggesting that the process is

overseen by an independent or, at least, balanced interest body

that is widely perceived as being capable of representing the

broader public interest.

5. The government has also commissioned Wilkinson Environmental

Consulting to carry out a review of information needs in relation

to options for managing radioactive waste. This will help to inform

the national debate and research programme. The project will be

completed next year.

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