Nuclear waste disposal and forum groups

Defra has advertised for members to form a new Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM). But has Defra learnt any lessons from the blunders it made with its last committee?

Let me remind you what happened two years ago when it was described as “an unholy row” by Times columnist Magnus Linklater when one of the leading scientists on the committee, Dr Keith Baverstock, an international radioactivity expert, was dismissed by Elliot Morley, the former Environment Minister.

Another leading expert, Prof David Ball, fired off a devastating letter to the government accusing them of preferring PR advice to scientific opinion. He  later  resigned from CoRWM.

I spoke to Dr Baverstock about this afterwards, he lives in Norwich and it was a month before the general election. He was devastated and genuinely concerned about the cavalier attitude of Defra and the way CoRWM was operating.

He had told Linklater that it was an “uphill struggle” to get any respected expertise, scientific or otherwise injected into the committee, adding, “I have never previously encountered such an attitude to the use of science, and other forms of hard-won knowledge, of the kind of which Britain is normally justly proud.?

Linklater describes how Defra had assembled a committee made up of a broad range of laypeople rather than the best available experts in nuclear waste disposal, that its  objective had been to win round public opinion to an agreed solution.

There is no question, of course, that the public needs to be engaged in this life-and-death issue. But let me describe one of the ways it did this: some 20 options were posted on the committee’s website and the public was invited to give their comments. The choices included burying waste beneath the seabed, storing it under the ice-cap, or firing it off in a rocket into outer space. Professor Ball said it took an astonishing 17 months of committee time after taking soundings on the wisdom of sending nuclear waste into space  before it was dismissed as pointless.

And then there were the forum groups, which I attended one night, in the heart of Essex, more than two hours drive away, to see for myself. I wrote about it here and discovered that yes, despite my ignorance and lack of expert knowledge on this subject, I was being requested to tick boxes on the future disposal of nuclear waste.

So, at £300 for one days work a week, you can apply to sit on the reconstituted CoRWM. Here is the advertisement for anyone interested in applying. I received a letter about it from Defra yesterday as I am on their mailing list.

What input do you feel focus groups can make on highly scientific and technical topics of this nature? And would their views really be taken into account?


  1. that’s weird – from the advertisement I am reading ( the link is broken (right hand side column).

  2. Alan, I’ve just tried it and it worked ok, the link is on the word advertisement. Do try again.

  3. I think they have too many p’s in it…

  4. Hi Ellee

    The link ( in the advert doesn’t point to anything – I get a 404 🙂

  5. Hi Ellee,

    As far as I’m concerned, we wouldn’t even have a nuclear waste ‘problem’ if it wasn’t for evironmentalists campaigning for the ban on dumping nuclear waste in the sea.

    What I’d like to know is, what exactly is wrong with sub seabed disposal?

    I’m sorry to say, but Quasar9 is wrong when he or she argues that sea disposal is not very ‘eco-friendly option’. On the contrary, the science and economics of disposing of nuclear waste using sub seabed disposal methods (SSD) points to it being the cheapest, the most permanent and effective way of doing it.

    This option has been outlawed by over precautious environmental concerns – the 40 year ban has meant the worse of all worlds – now we are forced to spend a small fortune transporting radioactive waste inland. This has in fact, exposed the population to even more un-necessary risks then if SSD was made available. The truth is, the real risks are associated with moving highly radioactive waste inland by rail or road.

    What could possible be wrong with dumping radioactive material, 3 or even 5 miles down on the sea bed? Background radiation levels 3 mile down are just as bad as anything we could put down there. Sub sea burial is wholey different from simply ‘ocean-dumping’ (before anyone gets off their high horse, and jumps down my throat).

    If you place a container of radioactive waste 3 or 5 miles down on the sedimentary soft clay on the sea floor – the immense amount of water pressure forces the container to sink in the seabed, rendering it totally harmless to marine life and ecology, and more importantly, to us humans.

    SSD is a real option that should be taken seriously.

  6. Newmania, thanks, it’s nice to be appreciated. 🙂

  7. Like your pictures at the moment Ellee. You certainly have the best presnted Blog by a country mile.

  8. Sadly the government doesn’t really trust people who know what they are talking about, as they might a) make them look stupid and b) say what needs to be done rather than what will be most acceptable to the electorate.

    DEFRA of course is renowned for efficency, fast and effective policy making and is a world leader in crisis management

  9. Blair seems to think all answers come from focus groups.

  10. …And would their views really be taken into account?…

    If the views were informed, Ellee and the person behind them reasonably intelligent.

  11. Welshcakes, I’m sure that experts are being consulted – but they are not listened to in the way they should be – that was the concern of these two scientists.

  12. Kevin: “give us representative parties with manifestos that win landslides and leaders we can trust to make bold and honest decisions on their own and based entirely on national interests”

    Too true, that really says it all. Nuclear power was deliberately omitted from any election manifesto because it is too controversial. I told the Environment desk at Conservative Central Office about what had been happening with CoRWM, but it was not followed up. I remember reading reports in the national press about how political editors wished our politicians were brave enough to talk about nuclear power during an election, instead of brushing it under the carpet. A week or so after the election, Tony Blair announced his commitment to it.

  13. I remember your earlier post on this, Ellee, and again, I cannot believe that experts are not being consulted but all this time and money is being wasted on “tick the boxes” . Focus groups are just a ploy, as others here have said: how stupid does this government imagine people to be?

  14. electro-kevin

    Focus Groups are there to give the impression of ‘people power’. Majority feeling and opinion is nearly always ignored. Forget Focus Groups and give us representative parties with manifestos that win landslides and leaders we can trust to make bold and honest decisions on their own and based entirely on national interests.

    I feel that our politicians are nearly all unpopular and have let us down so badly that I can only pray that my boys will be able to emigrate.

    In the meantime I’d really like to see ‘none of the above’ as an option on our voting slips and for this figure to be read out at election times. Alas I feel it would be too embarassing for our main parties and that is why it would never come to pass.

  15. Hi Elle, often emotional arguments get in the way of logical debate.

    Mind you, I’m glad firing off nuclear waste into space has been dismissed out of hand. I don’t think burying it under the sea or the ice-cap are eco friendly options, especially since the ice-caps are already showing signs of meltdown.

    Using old mine shafts is not a real solution, it may appear to be a cheap and easy answer, but we already have too many landfills, and there is always the risk of the wrong people getting access – plus we might need those mine shafts to grow food (like mushrooms)
    Also I hear Yetsemani Park in the US already glows green at night, and not from the northern lights.

    Encasing the nuclear waste in concrete and building pyramids in the middle of say, the Sahara desert would be both practical and aesthetic. lol!

  16. Focus groups have a hell of a lot to answer for. At the mundane level they are responsible for much of the music we hear on the radio. Radio stations ‘test’ records with people to see if they should be playing them. Advertising is of course riddled with the focus group mentality. It’s the same in PR, politics and just about everything else.

    To find them rearing their ugly little heads in a matter of life and death is astonishing.

    For me focus groups are used as a justification for action, or not, by people who don’t have either the courage of their own convictions or the intellect to sort things for themselves. It’s all about producing a society where the average is considered to be good. While I’m a firm believer in the best, at times, being the enemy of the good, average is never good.

    If focus groups had their way grey would be the new black.

  17. This is absolutely astonishing almost surreal.Sadly I am to busy to go on but why exactly I am trying to earn a living when we clearly have little chance of surviving is a ticklish question.

    Defra ? Who have got nothing right ?


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