Letters

Committee on Radioactive Waste Management lacks medical input

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7529.1409-a (Published 08 December 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1409
  1. Keith Baverstock, docent (keith.baverstock{at}uku.fi),
  2. David J Ball, professor of risk management
  1. Department of Environmental Science, University of Kuopio, PL 1627, FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland
  2. Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management, School of Health and Social Sciences, Middlesex University, Enfield, Middlesex EN3 4SA

    Editor—We have professional interests in the public health impact of ionising radiation, the assessment and management of risk, and the development of policy. After more than a year as members of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) one of us (KB) was sacked and the other driven to resign because of the committee's wayward modus operandi. CoRWM now lacks serious expertise in these subjects and developing policy to protect the public interest, including its health.1

    CoRWM has a membership stronger on public relations than science, is strongly averse to consulting expertise, has adopted a “do it yourself” mode of operation contrary to its overseer role, and commonly relies on help from close associates when needed. Its remit is to advise government on a strategy that can be implemented quickly and will inspire public confidence.

    After taking more than a year to eliminate long rejected options such as rocketing high level waste into the sun, the committee now has less than a year to formulate its advice on options that meet the engineering requirement of isolating the waste from the biosphere for up to 100 000 years.

    The latest independent review is sceptical that there will be a successful outcome2 given the avoidable damage to the credibility of the committee from its failure to develop a science strategy before January 2005. As then members, we thought that this was not so much a failure as a deliberate antiscience strategy.

    If the material stored at many places around the United Kingdom were inadvertently or deliberately dispersed, or some unsafe but seemingly publicly acceptable solution were implemented, the potential for major public health damage would be huge now and in the future. No strategy has been in place for managing radioactive waste in the UK in the past 25 years, and the medical profession should be concerned that this latest initiative is so controversial and lacking in professionalism.

    In November 2003 the BMA wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) expressing its concern that the newly formed CoRWM had no medically qualified members. As we have not been replaced (even by co-option) CoRWM now lacks health and risk expertise as well as any hands-on expertise on the science and engineering of radioactive waste management.3

    Is this a responsible way to make such a momentous decision?

    Footnotes

    • Competing interests None declared

    References

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