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Written Statement - Managing radioactive waste safely: consultation reviewing the siting process for a Geological Disposal Facility for higher activity radioactive waste

Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

The United Kingdom was one of the forerunners in the use of nuclear power and radioactive waste has been accumulated in the UK since the 1950s.  Radioactive waste disposal is a devolved issue and the Welsh Government has participated in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) programme since its inception in 2001. It is committed to securing the long-term safety of radioactive wastes and to the implementation of a disposal framework appropriate to the needs of Wales.

In 2006 the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended to the UK Government and the devolved administrations that HAW should be managed in the long term by geological disposal.  CoRWM also recommended that a willing community should be sought to host a geological disposal facility (GDF) and that there should be safe and secure interim storage until a GDF could be delivered.  This programme should be supported by ongoing research and development.  

Following a public consultation the UK Government, the then Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Executive issued, in June 2008, a White Paper Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: a framework for implementing geological disposal.  Current Welsh Government policy is set out in the 2008 White Paper: the Welsh Government has reserved its position on geological disposal. The White Paper states that should a community in Wales wish to make an expression of interest, it should do so to the Welsh Government which would, at that point, consider its position and the specific expression of interest.

Following the 2008 White Paper several local councils in west Cumbria (Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils and Cumbria County Council) expressed an interest in the siting process for a GDF in West Cumbria.  They collectively formed a partnership body to consider the issues and opened up without commitment discussions with the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).  In January 2013 Cumbria County Council decided not to proceed to the next stage of the process and those discussions came to an end. 

DECC is issuing the current consultation in England to seek public views about possible changes to the site selection process for a geological disposal facility, building on public engagement and experience to date.  The consultation confirms that voluntarism remains central to the siting of a GDF.

I consider that this consultation discusses issues about which the people of Wales have a right to be informed and upon which they should have an opportunity to comment.  I have therefore issued the consultation paper in Wales.  In order to ensure that the interests of Wales are taken into account in the development of policies in this area, the Welsh Government will continue to play a part in the MRWS programme.  However, at this time, the Welsh Government is retaining its policy of reserving its position on geological disposal and therefore does not confirm that it will support the future implementation in Wales of the proposals contained in this consultation paper, or the adoption of policies consistent with them.

The Northern Ireland Executive is also issuing this consultation.  

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.