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Learning from past mistakes about nuclear waste

Any managing organization must be seen to be independent, transparent and legitimate.


Your News in Brief “Britain urged to dump nuclear-waste agencies” (Nature 417, 110; 2002), reporting the Royal Society's call for reform of the institutions overseeing nuclear waste to restore public confidence in them, is consistent with the position of Nirex (the UK radioactive waste management agency), that the government should set up a new radioactive waste management organization independent from the nuclear industry. This is contained within the Nirex submission to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation, which can be found on our website at

Nirex has undergone its own reform to learn the lessons from past failures and ensure that, in future, whatever organization is responsible for managing nuclear waste in the United Kingdom, it is independent, transparent and above all legitimate in the eyes of the public.

Nirex was last in the public eye during the planning proposal in 1997 to build a 'rock-characterization facility' to examine suitability of the Sellafield site in northwest England for an underground nuclear-waste repository. The whole process was a resounding failure, for which Nirex accepts a significant part of the blame.

Since then, Nirex has done much work to try to learn from this: establishing an independent transparency panel; introducing a whistleblowers' policy; and holding regular dialogue with environmental groups. Stakeholders have generally welcomed these initiatives, which need to be built on in the future. An independent report by the consultancy Environmental Resources Management on stakeholder attitudes is on the Nirex website.

If people wish to find out more or become more actively involved, I would urge them to contact me at Nirex.

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