Royal Society urges better storage of nuclear waste

The British government must improve the way that some radioactive waste is stored and should set up new independent bodies to deal with its storage and long-term disposal, a Royal Society report urges today.

The government must improve the way that some radioactive waste is stored and should set up new independent bodies to deal with its storage and long-term disposal, a Royal Society report urges today.

In its submission to a consultation by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the management of radioactive waste, the Society points out that industry and government have concentrated on fighting public hostility to the nuclear industry and not placed enough emphasis on using the best up-to-date technology for storing waste.

The Society recommends the creation of an independent Waste Management Commission to find out how the public wants waste disposed of in the long-term and to provide technical advice to the government.

DEFRA is criticised for not taking a sufficiently radical view of the need for new processes and policies, and the urgency of technical challenges posed by radioactive waste.

The report points out that the problem of disposing of existing waste is serious and urgent, and warns the government not to wait to tackle it until after a decision has been made about whether to build new nuclear plant. Better co-operation between government departments is also urged.

Professor Geoffrey Boulton, chairman of the Royal Society working group on radioactive waste, said: ‘It is not apparent that DEFRA and DTI are working together in developing the framework for an effective and integrated national policy for waste management. The sensitivity and difficulty of this issue demand that they should do so.’

The report concludes that successive governments and industry have failed to recognise the need for public consent about policies relating to toxic and long-lived wastes, of which only 10% is encapsulated including fissile uranium and plutonium, as well as for public confidence in the institutions that manage them.

It calls for a public debate managed by a newly created Waste Management Commission that must be authoritative and independent, effective in managing an open process with public participation, and able to obtain and disseminate rigorously reviewed technical information.

A separate waste management executive is recommended to implement radioactive waste management policy. This could be a division of the Liabilities Management Authority or a newly constituted body.