Labour will probe Sellafield rejection

Answers wanted on underground nuclear waste site decision

A Labour Government would conduct an urgent inquiry into why its predecessor rejected plans to develop the case for an underground nuclear waste repository at Sellafield.

John Battle, Labour’s energy spokesman, said the last Government announced its decision just ahead of Parliament’s dissolution and there had been no chance to establish why it had reached the verdict it did.

The move comes against a background of criticism over the scheme whereby the company’s directors and senior managers were paid bonuses on the attainment of project milestones. Such an approach has been described as inappropriate for a scientific undertaking.

One former Nirex employee has said the bonus-driven approach led to `a shoddy assessment of the good science that was done’.

Battle said Labour would want to quiz officials at the departments of environment and industry to find out why they advised the Government to turn down the appeal by Nirex against the rejection of its planning application for an underground rock laboratory at the site.

Asked if the inquiry could extend into the way Nirex had chosen Sellafield as a site and conducted its subsequent investigations, Battle said: `That may be one outcome.’

The actions of the company could face further scrutiny from the House of Commons’ environment committee or its successors.

Andrew Bennett, chairman of the last environment committee, said: `I think it’s a very interesting area for a new one to look at.’

A Nirex spokesman said the company disagreed `fundamentally’ with the inspector’s conclusions and added that it was `very, very wrong’ to suggest there had been any impropriety in the way the senior management had conducted the programme.

He said the criteria used for selecting Sellafield had been approved by the Government’s advisory committee in the late 1980s and that the company now needed clarification of the change of policy before it began looking at other sites.

By Andrew Cavenagh