The Executive, the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government today accepted recommendations for the long-term management of higher activity legacy wastes and those arising from existing nuclear activities and set out the next steps in the Government's programme to manage radioactive waste safely.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) recommended geological disposal as the best available option for secure management of these wastes which will protect the public and the environment.

Environment Minister Ross Finnie said: "We accept CoRWM's recommendations that the UK's higher activity legacy wastes and those arising from existing nuclear activities should be managed in the long term through geological disposal, and the continuing need for safe and secure interim storage until geological disposal is available.

"Government believes that CoRWM's report provides a sound basis to move forward and we will continue to work together as we enter the next stage of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme. "Geological disposal is the approach being adopted in many countries, including Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the US. Nevertheless, securing geological disposal represents a major challenge and will require a commitment over many decades.

"We accept CoRWM's recommendations that the process for developing a geological disposal option should be undertaken on a staged basis, with clear decision points. This approach will allow Government to review progress, assess costs and value for money and environmental impact before decisions are taken to move to the next stage.

"The circumstances surrounding the long term disposal of radioactive waste are unique. We have made it clear that we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community. In this context, we are strongly supportive of exploring the concept of voluntarism/partnership arrangements with the local authorities serving communities who might be affected. However, as CoRWM recognises, there is a need to consider further how such arrangements could work in practice.

"This response demonstrates our commitment to taking forward this important and long-term task to ensure the safe and secure management of our radioactive waste. We are committed to continuing the high standards that CoRWM has set, and we commend the members of the Committee for the work they have done on our behalf." Further work to plan and develop the geological disposal option will include: establishing a strong and effective implementing organisation, with clear responsibilities and accountabilities ensuring strong independent regulation by the statutory regulators - the Health and Safety Executive, the environment agencies and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security securing independent advice to Government on implementation developing a partnership with any host community Ministers have decided that responsibility for securing geological disposal of higher activity wastes should fall to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which already has responsibility for the safe and secure storage of radioactive wastes.

It is proposed that the skills and technology developed at United Kingdom Nirex Ltd (Nirex) should be incorporated into the NDA. This will create a single organisation able to take a strategic view through all stages of the waste management chain, accountable in a clear and transparent way to regulators and to Government. Independent environment and nuclear safety regulators believe that this proposal will provide a framework that they can regulate in a strong and effective manner. Independent advice on the plans for the long term management of radioactive waste will be provided through the appointment of a successor independent Committee.

The new Committee will retain the CoRWM name but will be reconstituted to reflect its role in the next stage of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme. It will be sponsored by UK Government and the devolved administrations and will provide advice to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales, as has been done by CoRWM.

While there is strong support for exploring the Committee's proposals for voluntary/partnership agreements on potential sites there is a need to consider further how such arrangements could work in practice. Scottish Ministers are inviting any local authority, or group of local authorities who wish to be involved in these discussions to contact them or officials directly. Similar invitations have been extended in England and Wales by UK and Welsh Ministers. Any future facility siting process is will be a wholly new process, divorced from the historical Nirex process.

Government will be discussing with key stakeholders how this might work in practice and will produce an implementation framework and publish it for wider consultation as soon as practicable next year. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management is an independent committee appointment in 2003 by the UK Government and devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its task has been to review the options for managing the estimated 470,000 cubic metres of higher activity radioactive wastes. CoRWM reported to Ministers on July 31, 2006.

Geological disposal is a long-term management option involving placing radioactive waste in an engineered repository at between 200 and 1000 metres underground where the geology (rock structure) provides a barrier against the escape of radioactivity. Nirex was set up in the 1980s to provide radioactive waste disposal services to the nuclear industry. Since the demise of its own geological disposal development programme in 1997, Nirex has played an important role in maintaining and developing the UK's knowledge on geological disposal.