Radwaste policy moves forward

3 August 2003

The UK government has announced draft legislation for a new state-funded body to clean up £48 billion worth of radioactive waste. The nuclear sites and radioactive substances bill would allow the government to finance the decommissioning of a number of nuclear power stations.

The draft bill would set up a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) by April 2005. This authority will oversee the clean-up of power stations, fuel reprocessing and nuclear research and development facilities dating back to the 1950s. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, this work will cost "well over £1 billion a year for the next 10-15 years." Stephen Timms, the minister responsible for energy, said: "The task ahead cannot be underestimated. With costs ... estimated at £48 billion, it is essential that we establish a single, publicly accountable body to take strategic management control of the clean-up process." The NDA will take responsibility for financing the clean-up of all of BNFL's 10 Magnox stations and the Sellafield plant. The NDA will also assume the liabilities of UKAEA, and could be used to help rehabilitate British Energy.

Once the NDA is operational, it will put site management responsibilities on a proper contractual basis, with appropriate performance targets and incentives. Contracts will initially be placed with BNFL and UKAEA but, over time, contracts could be placed with third parties following competitive tenders.

Safety case work is expected to be in demand. Nigel Smith, a manager with Serco Assurance, said that his company, a subsidiary of the Serco Group, has about 500 workers, and there are around "ten to a dozen" firms of roughly the same size that will be competing for the upcoming safety analysis work.

Deciding policy The UK government has announced that the country's radioactive waste body Nirex is to be independent of the nuclear industry and under greater government control up to the point where future policy is decided.

Announcing the move, secretary of state for the environment, Margaret Beckett said: "It is very important that Nirex stands ready, along with others, to help CoRWM (the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management) reach its view and inform policy decisions. It is important also that the company can do this from a position where it is, and can be seen to be, independent of industry. The government will consult Nirex shareholders on the best way of making Nirex independent of industry and under greater government control, and our aim is to establish and announce the appropriate way forward by autumn of this year." Beckett also announced the appointment of Katharine Bryan to chair the CoRWM. The newly-formed committee will be responsible for recommending to the government how to manage the UK's higher activity radioactive waste in the long term. The government aims to decide its policy on high-level radwaste around 2006.

Bryan comes to the position after chairing the UK Joint Nature Conservations Committee since October 2002. She was previously CEO of the North Scotland Water Authority.

Nirex has long campaigned for separation from the waste producers. Nirex managing director Chris Murray said the decision represented a "significant and positive step forward" in the UK's efforts to tackle its nuclear legacy. He added: "We believe that an independent Nirex can now make a more legitimate contribution to the development of a sustainable long-term policy.

"The lessons we have learnt from the past teach us that the public will, quite rightly, not accept decisions that they see as having been compromised by conflicting or short-term interests." The UK's radioactive waste policy was outlined in a feature on page 36 of the July 2003 edition of NEI.

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