A House of Lords select committee has backed deep disposal for the UK’s nuclear waste. The committee took 15 months to come to its conclusions following a decision made in March 1997 by the then environment minister John Gummer, not to give the go ahead for the construction of a rock laboratory.

“We need a new integrated approach,” said the committee chairman, Lord Tombs. “Nuclear waste has been treated in an ad hoc way for too long. There are wastes for which no long term management method has been identified, and there are radioactive materials in store that are not needed but that have yet to be classified as waste. The long time-scale involved is not a reason for postponing decisions.” The main recommendations of the committee are backing of phased underground disposal, but in a way that retrieval is possible; government development of plans to consult the public; approval and review of proposals by Parliament; and new organisations replacing Nirex and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee.

A more contentious recommendation is that excess plutonium should be declared a waste. The committee considers ten tons to be sufficient for any foreseeable applications in the UK. Reclassification of plutonium has implications for the logic of reprocessing.

“Separation beyond what is required is not necessary and could cause embarrassment.” said Tombs.

BNFL has taken issue with this conclusion.

“We feel that more value should be given to the fundamental contribution which plutonium can make to the security of our energy supply and the protection of our atmosphere,” says a press statement. “There is absolutely no correlation between the quantity of plutonium stored and the level of proliferation or safety risk. To use an analogy, the security measures at Fort Knox do not change with the amount of gold stored there.”