Goodbye RWMAC, hello CoRWM

The Government has decided to put its long-standing Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) "into abeyance".

Last November, the Government set up a new Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to review the options for the long-term management of the UK's nuclear waste and recommend a solution.

In a written statement in late March, Environment Minister Elliott Morley announced that "in principle it would be wrong" to have two independent advisory committees operating the same policy area.1 The Government therefore plans to scrap RWMAC, at least until a review of its advisory machinery once CoWRM has compiled its recommendations.

RWMAC itself had proposed that it should continue in a slimmed down form. Last year its chairman Professor Charles Curtis warned Ministers that scrapping the Committee would leave "a gaping hole in the structures for independent scrutiny of current radioactive waste management and regulatory practices".

Mr Morley said that the Government will look for advice on these matters from its Radioactive Waste Policy Group - a body of officials and representatives of the nuclear safety and environmental regulators. It is far from clear how such a group can replace RWMAC's "watchdog" function.

Mr Morley admitted that "this has not been an easy decision to take given the quality of the past advice we have received from RWMAC."

Meanwhile, CoWRM has submitted its proposed work programme to Ministers. The first phase, running to September 2004, will engage stakeholders and draw up preliminary waste inventories and a list of management options. By November 2005 it will produce a final inventory, a short list of options and agreed criteria to assess them. Final recommendations will be submitted to Ministers by November 2006.

CoRWM's chairman Gordon MacKerron - a noted critic of many aspects of nuclear policy - says the Committee faces "a tremendous challenge". He warns that unless the Committee ensures that people have confidence in it, "our recommendations will be hard or impossible to implement."

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