April 2003

Nuclear watchdog axed to save money

The Guardian, April 15, 2003
Paul Brown and James Oliver

Original address: http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,936887,00.html

[Posted 16/04/2003]

The independent watchdog that safeguards the public against mismanagement of Britain's legacy of nuclear waste is being abolished to save money.

The radioactive waste management advisory committee, which has been critical of the government's failure to properly account for the nuclear waste or make arrangements to deal with it, has objected.

In a letter to Michael Meacher, the environment minister, the chairman of the committee, Charles Curtis of Manchester University, says the abolition of the committee by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs "will leave a gaping hole in the structures for independent scrutiny of current radioactive waste management and regulatory practices".

Professor Curtis was called in by two civil servants, Henry Derwent, head of environment, and Richard Wood, in charge of nuclear matters, on March 26 and told RWMAC was being abolished to save money.

The committee cost £165,000 a year to run and reported on the way nuclear waste is stored and conditioned, as well as keeping track of quantities. Last month RWMAC reported "discovering" 3m cubic metres of nuclear waste which had not appeared on any inventory kept by the department, by British Nuclear Fuels, or by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. It said the government had no plans and no capacity to deal with it.

Successive governments have failed to come up with a policy for dealing with nuclear waste. Labour has decided to set up a nuclear decommissioning authority, but this will require legislation. In the meantime Defra is to set up another body - the committee on radioactive waste management- to advise it. It will not be able to criticise government inaction as RWMAC has done.

Andy Blowers, a member of RWMAC since 1991, said: "It cannot be in the public interest to abolish a committee with a watchdog role at this time of change in the industry."

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