HL Deb 29 July 2002 vol 638 cc137-9WA
Lord Hughes of Woodside

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made on the consultation paper Managing radioactive waste safely published jointly in September 2001 by the UK Government and the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. [HL5669]

Lord Whitty

The consultation ended on 12 March and today we are publishing a summary of the 330 responses received by the UK Government and the devolved administrations. We have considered the many comments made on the specific issues on whichManaging radioactive waste safely sought views, and the other comments which some recipients offered, and are now outlining the next steps which the UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed will be taken in the policy process.

We now propose to press ahead with a review of waste management options. The review will seek the views of interested stakeholders, the public and government departments. We will appoint an independent body to oversee the review process which will make recommendations on the option, or combination of options, for managing radioactive waste which achieves long-term protection for people and the environment. We will review all options and revise the timetable to a four rather than five stage process. We, the UK Government, and the devolved administrations will continue to be responsible for taking the ultimate decision on the management option.

We propose that the new body will be in place by the end of the year. We will advertise widely for the members of this new body and they will be appointed jointly by Ministers from the UK Government and the devolved administrations. We will be seeking people who will bring technical expertise and people who will bring a wider perspective of environmental, health, social or ethical issues. We will also want to ensure that its membership is drawn from across the UK. Further details will be announced later. This new body must win public confidence and operate in an open, transparent and inclusive manner. The review process must engage with stakeholders and the public. The first step of the review will be to set the framework for debate by establishing broad agreement on the wastes to be considered, the range of management opt ions for each of them, and the criteria against which these options should be assessed. The second step will be to assess each option including commissioning any new research required. The final step will draw up recommendations for Ministers to consider.

The Managing radioactive waste safely consultation was the first stage in our programme. The appointment of the new body will signal the beginning of stage 2, and the process of assessing options, and it will end when we publish and explain our decision. Stage 3, around 2006, will be a public debate on how the decision should be implemented, including any site selection criteria. Stage 4, around 2007, will be the start of the implementation process including any necessary legislation. In making these changes we have taken account of views received and research undertaken. We believe that this approach will result in a more dynamic and extensive process of public engagement as the review progresses, rather than the series of public consultation exercises originally envisaged. We shall not set rigid timetables and deadlines. But we shall go faster if we can.

Our priority is to reach the decision which achieves long-term protection of people and the environment, which inspires public confidence, and which is practicable. This approach, coupled with regular reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, will reach far more people and encourage active involvement in decision making, rather than occasional opportunties to react to consultation papers.

The waste from our existing nuclear facilities will arise over the next century or so. So we intend, in our assessment of waste management options, to include not only materials currently classified as waste but also to consider the consequences of providing for other materials which may have to be managed as waste during that period, such as some separated plutonium, and uranium, as well as certain quantities of spent nuclear fuel. The future management options for the UK's civil plutonium include its possible use as a fuel. However, up to 5 per cent of this stock may be so contaminated that, even though it may also be technically possible to treat and use this amount for fuel, it might prove uneconomic to do so. The Government are currently undertaking a study of the possible options for the future management of UK owned civil stock and will want to consider the results of that exercise before reaching their own conclusions on this issue. More generally, the Government urge the other owners of these materials, on a voluntary basis, to put in hand procedures now which would allow them to identify those materials which may become not economically reusable.

The review of options will not consider potential radioactive waste sites. Our priority is to assess the management options and decide how to manage the waste. But we need to recognise that the assessment of some options will raise siting issues—including, as some consultees have suggested, whether local communities should have a veto or be encouraged to volunteer, and whether they should be offered incentives. It is important to ensure that we are clear and open when drawing up any criteria which might eventuallly be needed to identify sites in the option assessment process, and the issues which they raise.

Over the summer and autumn, we shall publish more detailed proposals. These will include details of the new body and its terms of reference, and more detailed proposals for stage 2. They will also address pressing issues such as arrangements for managing waste safely in the short term and an announcement on waste substitution. We shall report progress on the other issues covered in the consultation, including decommissioning nuclear sites, the powers of the environment agencies, managing spent sealed sources of radioactivity, and waste classification. We will also set out how the policy process relates to other programmes, particularly the UK Government's proposals for Managing the nuclear legacy published on 4 July. A summary of the consultation responses will be placed in the Library of this House, and those of the devolved administrations. Copies of individual responses are available in the department's library, and in those of the relevant departments in the devolved administrations.