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DEFRA: Developing UK policy for the management of radioactive waste

01 April 2002

The problem of disposal of existing radioactive waste is serious and urgent. It needs to be resolved regardless of whether a new generation of nuclear power stations produces fresh volumes of waste. The DEFRA consultation document appears to assume that the principal problems of radioactive waste management concern public presentation and acceptance, and the formulation of long-term policies for ultimate storage and disposal.

But, meanwhile, the management of wastes while they are awaiting disposal needs to be improved by adopting currently available waste management technologies and addressing uncertainties about appropriate solutions for some problematic existing waste streams. We also need new research into waste treatment, leading to new techniques that will ensure that existing and new wastes from both civil and military nuclear activities are conditioned to forms that are passively safe and robustly stored. Unfortunately, the relevant scientific and technological research base has been seriously diminished, and needs urgently to be reinvigorated to address these pressing issues.

Whilst a public debate about radioactive waste management is important, public confidence will not be restored unless there is confidence in the institutions that manage consultation and debate and develop policy.