The Government will not take any decision on how to deal with radioactive waste before 2000, it emerged this week.
The long wait will dismay companies in the nuclear industry, which have been living in uncertainty since spring last year, when the previous government vetoed the proposal by Nirex to develop its plans for a deep underground repository at Sellafield.
For some, important future business will depend on how various waste issues are resolved.
British Nuclear Fuels, for instance, may be unable to secure any more reprocessing business from foreign customers if it is obliged to return the intermediate-level wastes arising from these operations to the countries of origin.
The further delay in formulating a policy has arisen because a key House of Lords inquiry into the issue has taken far longer than expected.
The relevant subcommittee of the Lords’ Select Committee on Science and Technology was due to report before the end of the year.
However, the select committee has now informed the Government that it will not finish taking evidence until early in 1999.
The subcommittee will then take several weeks to produce its report, and while the Government is committed to responding to this within two months, it does not expect to produce a consultation paper until the autumn.
‘At the moment our timing is dependent on the select committee,’ a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said.