Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Third Report


Independent Overseeing Body

21. Chapter 6 of the consultation document states:

    "We recognise that whichever methods are chosen to engage the public in the debate over managing radioactive waste, the process will only work if the information given to the public is accepted as accurate, objective and complete by all interested parties. We propose appointing an independent and authoritative body to advise on what that information is, where further information is needed, and when enough information has been gathered for decisions to be taken."[33]

22. For its part RWMAC has said that:

    "The policy formulation process should be overseen by an independent or at least balanced-interest body that is widely accepted as being capable of representing the broader public interest. The remit of this body should, in the first instance, be limited to overseeing the process and transparently drawing together its findings in the form of policy recommendations to Government. The overseeing body must be adequately resourced for the inevitably demanding work programme that it will be required to undertake and/or manage. Appropriate timescales for the work must be set and adhered to."[34]

23. The Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee supports RWMAC's proposal, and expresses some views on membership of the new body. It has said that "there is a good case for an advisory panel which:

  • Includes stakeholders from Government departments, the nuclear industry, the regulators, the trade unions, local authorities, environmental NGOs, public interest groups and academic institutions;

  • Has an independent chairperson, with no direct institutional or professional interest in a particular approach to radioactive waste management; and

  • Is serviced by a dedicated unit within DEFRA (as long as this did not jeopardise the independence of the panel), or by a consultancy organisation".[35]

24. Mr Chris Murray of Nirex said that the new body "should represent all kinds of stakeholders; it should represent the academic community, it should represent local authorities, it should be very wide-ranging".[36] We are convinced that, if the process of consultation and policy development is to be successful, it should be managed by an independent body which ultimately provides policy advice and recommendations to the Government. The membership of the overseeing body should include experts, stakeholders and lay people, and should be appointed in a personal and not a representative capacity. The body should be adequately staffed. We recommend that the independent body should be established as soon as possible after the end of the first consultation period.

The Future of Nirex

25. What should happen to Nirex, and what its role and remit should be in the future? At present Nirex is responsible for the disposal concept for ILW (though it is now examining other options), and for the 'letters of comfort' process which advises on the suitability of waste packaging for disposal. Nirex is also engaging in the process of policy formulation through its research and public participation exercises. It should be made clear at an early stage whether its functions will continue to be performed by Nirex, or whether they will be taken over by some other organisation. The consultation paper asks for views on the need for a research body and suggests that (among others) Nirex would be a candidate to take on the role.[37] The relationships between Nirex and the waste producers are set out in the consultation document.[38] The board of Nirex has recently taken the decision to recommend to DEFRA that it become "an independent body".[39] In its evidence to us Nirex states that "there is an argument for undertaking institutional reform earlier rather than later. This will then allow time for the institutions taking forward the whole project to be able to develop legitimate authority as soon as possible, so that they can implement whatever is the Government's final chosen policy. It would also clarify the roles of the institutional actors early in the process and avoid any confusion in the public domain."[40] We recommend that in order to ensure that the roles performed by the various institutions involved continue to be as clear as possible, a decision be taken quickly about the future role of Nirex, about future responsibility for the functions it currently performs and that it or its successor should be independent of other nuclear companies.

The Public and the Quality of the Debate

26. Engaging the public and enabling them along with stakeholders to guide the development of policy is the key to the success of the consultation process. Without such a commitment, the whole process loses legitimacy and will founder in the same way that previous efforts have failed.

27. The consultation document proposes "a major programme of research and public discussion, using many techniques - some traditional, some relatively new - to stimulate discussion, and to involve as many people and groups as possible."[41] Mr Meacher invited us to let him "just spell out the things we are planning to do over the next three months; the consultation ends, as you know, on 12 March. We are seeking to reconvene the Citizens Panel from the 1999 Consensus Conference; we have commissioned an omnibus survey of a representative sample of people; we have commissioned a facilitated discussion with a group of people over a weekend with a chance to question witnesses, BNFL, Nirex, the NGOs (non-governmental organisations), and indeed in my view we should do a lot of those all over the country if they work. We are arranging a Radioactive Waste Seminar, which is targeted at people who are delicately defined as 'previously unconsulted', which I suspect is the great majority of the people in the country. We are arranging meetings with specific non-nuclear groups, pensioners, youth organisations, small campaign groups; and we have actually even commissioned a schools pack, because it probably is future generations who are going to bear the brunt of this perhaps more than we are".[42]

28. We welcome this eclectic approach; we believe that public involvement and engagement will be critical to the success of the consultation. In her evidence to the Sub-committee, Professor Judith Petts also welcomed the use of several consultation methods, noting that "all experience of public participation exercises shows that integration of multiple methods is essential to ensure that the number of people who can contribute is extended and that the full range of potential views on the subject is identified."[43] There is however a danger that the public could see an ill- managed attempt at public engagement merely as a way of gathering public support for the Government's preferred policy. We recommend that the Government come forward with a clear statement of the purpose of its public engagement, and some indication of how the outcome will be evaluated.

29. Earlier in this report we commented on the fact that the parameters of the consultation process were not clearly defined, because the values and principles thought by the Government to underpin radioactive waste management policies have not been spelt out. It has been argued that the public should play a part in framing such basic values. The Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee, for example, told us that "the (consultation) paper fails to recognise that facilitating public involvement in the framing of policy formulation is an essential first step."[44] We agree. The Government needs to elicit from the public consultation and publicise the values and principles which should underpin the process of developing a radioactive waste management policy. If the public are properly consulted about such fundamental matters at the outset, the outcome of the consultation process is much more likely to attract public support.

30. Some suggestions of principles which might frame the consultation process have already been made. The consultation paper suggests some principles, such as the "need for an open and fair assessment of options".[45] RWMAC makes its own proposals,[46] as does Nirex, which emphasises that "if any future project is to succeed, transparency must be, and be seen to be, at the heart of the project".[47] Certain principles and characteristics are fundamental to the consultation process. These include openness and transparency, equity, public acceptability and legitimacy.

31. The Government must also make clear how much control of the policy outcome will be given to the public. There is potential for much scepticism about 'another consultation'. This will only be overcome if a guarantee is given that the public have some degree of real influence over the outcome. Public engagement should be regarded as an aid to democracy rather than a substitute for it. The consultation process should therefore be an opportunity for democratic participation through existing representative bodies at national and local levels. The Centre for Reform suggested that "there should be substantial new powers for a Parliamentary Select Committee with specific oversight of the Commission, and a remit to monitor the entire nuclear industry".[48] Professor Judith Petts, opposed that proposal, saying that "the further you go into formalising new commissions and bodies, the further away from the public you actually get."[49] When asked whether Parliament should be consulted, Mr Meacher replied that "it would be very helpful to have a debate in Parliament. I certainly would be very keen for MPs to take a lead in developing this debate."[50] We believe that Parliament, having considered the advice of the overseeing body, should decide the elements of national policy including, most crucially, the preferred option for long term management of radioactive wastes.

32. Nirex told us that "we judge at the moment...that we could dispose of the intermediate level wastes that we are responsible about 30 per cent of the deep geology of the United Kingdom".[51] In addition to a national public debate, the participation of local communities which may be asked to host such a storage facility is critical. In some other countries local communities may receive compensation for hosting a facility and incentives may be offered to encourage volunteers. In Finland and Sweden, local communities may have a right of veto over proposals. Such overseas experience should be considered when developing the UK's policy.

33. At some point in the process, the issue of the siting of a prospective waste management facility will have to be explicitly considered. There is a timing problem. On the one hand, if siting issues are deferred, it may be relatively easy to engage the public in debate and to reach a consensus on a management option, but it may subsequently prove very difficult to achieve agreement on siting. On the other hand, an early introduction of siting issues may distract from the debate on overall strategy and, at worst, result in conflict and political impasse, as has occurred previously. We consider a better approach would be to introduce the siting issues gradually, in stages, moving from consideration of siting principles (compensation, incentives, veto etc.), to a consideration of broad areas of search and eventually to specific sites. In this way the ground rules for siting could be established using the principle of equity. However, once this process has begun it is vital that the Government is robust in seeing it through to its conclusion. Any loss of will to reach a final decision, against what could be a rising tide of controversy, would fundamentally undermine a carefully structured exercise in consultation. Those likely to be most immediately affected would be consulted at a relatively early stage before any specific siting decisions were made. We urge the Government to make a decision as early as is practicable in the consultation process as to the stage at which local communities likely to be asked to host a storage or disposal facility will be identified, and subsequently involved in the decision-making process. It should also be determined in advance whether local communities, however defined, will be given the power of veto over hosting such a facility, and whether they will be provided with benefits for doing so.

34. We agree with Professor Curtis' comment in evidence that compensation raises no ethical problems[52]. Incentives might however be construed as bribes. As the Minister commented, "if you have a system of sweeteners, you are compromising the rights of future generations in order to satisfy the present one."[53] Incentives might be used to seek out volunteers. Great care must be taken to ensure the process is even-handed and does not produce sub-optimal siting solutions. There is also a major political issue to be addressed here. It is possible to argue that a repository for radioactive waste is a unique case, and that the community accepting it is acting in the national interest. It is however also easy to imagine the same argument being used for other planning issues such as airports, defence installations, incinerators and wind farms. The Government will need to have a firm policy in place if it decides to consider the use of compensation. As to the use of a veto, careful consideration is needed as to when and in what circumstances it might be applied and whether it could be overridden. All these issues are complex and should be the subject of debate during the consultation process

Identification of Sites

35. We considered the question of whether the many sites considered by Nirex during the late 1970s and 1980s should be revealed. Various views were expressed during the inquiry. The Nuclear Free Local Authorities wrote "The Government should publish Nirex's previous 'long' and 'short lists' of potential sites. These potentially affected communities should be invited to participate in Front End Consultation events and subsequent stages of consultation".[54] The Minister, when asked if he thought it would be useful for the original list to be made public, replied "No, I do not. I really do think it would be counter-productive".[55] Mr Chris Murray of Nirex said "we ourselves have a debate internally about this whole question of (revealing) the 12 sites, because, given that we foresee that there will be a completely new selection process...then there is a whole set of issues around how you would choose that site".[56] Undoubtedly such revelation would encourage participation in debate by those potentially affected and it would signal an open and transparent process. However, we are mindful that these sites were considered some time ago in very different circumstances and using different siting criteria from those which might be employed today. On balance, we think the revelation of these sites would prove to be a distraction. If siting questions, both generic and specific, are introduced at appropriate stages during the process, it should not be necessary to identify a range of specific possible sites until relatively late in the process. However, work should be undertaken now on how best to deal with the consequences of eventually revealing possible sites if the whole exercise is not to be sunk by local opposition.


36. Changes are currently being proposed in the planning process, especially those concerning major infrastructure projects[57], of which a radioactive waste facility would clearly be one. The Government published its green paper "Planning; Delivering a Fundamental Change"[58] and "New Parliamentary Procedures for processing major infrastructure projects"[59] in December 2001. Paragraph 10 of the latter document says "We propose that the Secretary of State should have discretionary power to decide that a major infrastructure project was one to which the new Parliamentary procedures applied." Paragraph 12 states "Examples of major infrastructure projects to which the new procedures could apply include new airports and runways, ports, trunk roads, rail schemes power stations, radioactive waste disposal and other forms of infrastructure, such as new reservoirs." Paragraph 19 reads: "Parliament would consider the principle of, the need for and location of a project. The precise terms on which Parliament's approval was sought would be determined by the Secretary of State case-by-case on the basis of the specific proposals concerned. The terms of the approval sought would be included in a draft affirmative Order that would be debated in both Houses."

37. Referring to these changes, Mr Meacher said "What the Planning Green Paper is trying to do is to speed up and streamline the planning process over relatively more minor matters - small housing developments, small scale developments in localities. If it is a major development, and this of course is a very major development, there is no question whatever that there would have to be public inquiries. It would be impossible to get agreement for a particular management option selected at a particular site without there being an opportunity for everyone locally involved to have a say. The Planning Green Paper is not designed to prevent in any way public discussion but to streamline it where that can be done."[60]

38. We recommend that the issues of siting a potential radioactive waste facility should be debated as part of the consultation process in stages moving from generic issues to specific siting questions; that among the generic issues to be debated and decided should be compensation, incentives, volunteerism and vetoes; that the devolved administrations and local authorities should be fully involved in the decision-making process; and that the planning process should not be changed in any way that would impede the process of public debate and staged policy formulation which is necessary for effective decision-making.

33   Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for developing a policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK, DEFRA, September 2001, Paras 6.1-6.2. Back

34   Memorandum submitted by RWMAC, Ev 69, para 2.10. Back

35   Memorandum submitted by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee, Ev 94 (apps). Back

36   Evidence taken on 26 November 2001, Ev 6, Q.11. Back

37   Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for developing a policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK, DEFRA, September 2001, Paras 6.13-6.16. Back

38   Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for developing a policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK, DEFRA and the devolved administrations, September 2001, p.51, Box 10. Back

39   Further Memorandum submitted by Nirex, Ev 12. Back

40   Memorandum submitted by Nirex, Ev 2. Back

41   Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for developing a policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK, DEFRA, September 2001, Executive Summary p.7. Back

42   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001, Ev 84, Q.267. Back

43   Memorandum submitted by Professor Judith Petts, Ev 58, para 5. Back

44   Memorandum submitted by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee, Ev 93 (apps). Back

45   Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for developing a policy for managing solid radioactive waste in the UK, DEFRA, September 2001, Executive Summary p.10. Back

46   RWMAC Advice to Ministers on the Process for Formulation of Future Policy forthe Long-Term Management of UK Solid Radioactive Waste, DEFRA 2001. Back

47   Memorandum submitted by Nirex, Ev 2. Back

48   The Nuclear Age: Cleaning Up the Mess, Centre for Reform, p.5, para 1.5. Back

49   Evidence taken on 3 December 2001, Ev 64, Q.211. Back

50   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001, Ev 89, Q.293. Back

51   Evidence taken on 26 November 2001, Ev 8, Q.24. Back

52   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001, Ev 78, Q.246. Back

53   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001, Ev 85, Q.275. Back

54   Memorandum submitted by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Steering Committee, Ev 95 (apps). Back

55   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001, Ev 87, Q.281. Back

56   Evidence taken on 26 November 2001, Ev 8, Q.18. Back

57   Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions Planning Green Paper Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change, Chapter 6. Back

58   Planning Green Paper, Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change, DTLR, December 2001. Back

59   Planning Consultation Paper, New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects, DTLR, December 2001. Back

60   Evidence taken on 17 December 2001 Ev 87, Q.280. Back

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