This paper provides an overview of the current status of radioactive waste management in the UK from the point of view of Nirex, the organisation responsible for providing safe, environmentally sound and publicly acceptable options for the long-term management of radioactive materials. Essentially, it argues that: • the waste exists and must be dealt with in an ethical manner; • legitimacy is the key to public acceptance of any attempt to solve the waste issue; and • credible options and a new political will allow, and indeed, compel this generation to deal with it. In doing this, the paper takes account of a number of recent announcements and ongoing developments in the UK nuclear industry, in particular: • the recent announcement that Nirex is to be made independent of industry; • the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Devolved Administrations’ Managing Radioactive Waste Safely consultation exercise; • the creation of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to oversee the consultation; • the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to manage the civil nuclear site clean-up programme; • proposals for improved regulation of Intermediate Level Waste conditioning and packaging; and • proposals by the European Commission for a new radioactive waste Directive. These institutional and policy changes amount to an evolution of the back-end of the fuel cycle that represents the most radical transformation in the UK nuclear industry for many years. In a large part, this is a transformation made necessary by past failures in trying to impose a solution on the general public. Therefore, in order for these changes to result in a successful long-term radioactive waste management programme, it is necessary to pay as much attention to political and social concerns as scientific and technical ones. Primarily it is crucial that all parties involved act in an open and transparent manner so that the decisions made achieve a high degree of legitimacy and thus public acceptance. Crucially too, the problem must be framed in the correct term — that the waste exists irrespective of the future of nuclear power and that this is an issue that must be addressed now. Thus there is a legitimacy of purpose and scope in moving forward that addresses the ethical imperative of this generation dealing with the waste. Put together with the action the government is taking to create the necessary institutional framework, Nirex believes that for the first time in a generation the UK has the building blocks in place to find a publicly acceptable, long-term solution for radioactive waste.

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