HC Deb 19 September 2002 vol 390 cc245-7W
Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what representations she has received regarding the consultation on radioactive waste management; and if she will make a statement; [64793]

(2) what action she plans in relation to radioactive waste management; and if she will make a statement; [64730]

(3) what steps she (a) has taken and (b) plans to take to change (i) guidance and (ii) legislation relating to radioactive waste management; and if she will make a statement; [64796]

(4) what public consultation (a) has taken place and (b) is planned in relation to radioactive waste management; and if she will make a statement. [64797]

Mr. Meacher

I refer the hon. Member to the letter of 29 July from my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State. She wrote to all Members with the results of the consultation on radioactive waste management, and announced the next steps of the policy making process.

The consultation on Managing radioactive waste safely, published by the UK Government and the devolved administrations, ran from 12 September 2001 to 12 March 2002 and 330 responses were received. A summary of the responses has been placed in the Library of the House, and those of the devolved administrations. The summary lists other events during the consultation period, including recommendations from two Parliamentary Select Committees and a number of research reports. Copies of individual responses are available in my Department's Library, and in those of the relevant Departments in the devolved administrations.

In her letter, my right hon. Friend said that the Government and the devolved administrations had considered these responses and recommendations and decided the next steps in the policy process. In particular, we 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 would achieve long-term protection for people and the environment. We will review all options and revise the timetable to a four stage process rather than five as proposed in the original consultation.

The review process must engage with stakeholders and the public. The review will therefore start by setting the framework for debate by establishing broad agreement on the wastes to be considered, the range of management options for each of them, and the criteria against which these options should be assessed. We want to promote a dynamic and extensive process of public engagement. This approach, coupled with regular reports to our Parliaments and Assemblies, will reach far more people and encourage active involvement in decision making, rather than occasional opportunities to react to consultation papers.

The waste from our existing nuclear facilities will arise over the next century or so. So we intend, in assessing 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 the period, such as some separated plutonium, and uranium, as well as certain quantities of spent nuclear fuel.

We propose that the new body will be in place by the end of the year. Over the summer and autumn, we shall publish more detailed proposals. These will include details of the new body and its terms of reference. 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.

In the meantime we are not planning any changes to legislation or guidance on this issue.

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