Rod Donington-Smith’s letter to IRP chairman Prof. Chris Hawkesworth

As posted previously, Cumbria Trust was represented at the RWM (Radioactive Waste Management)/IRP  (Independent Review Panel)  screening event which took place on the 23rd June, the full video of which is available for viewing on YouTube.  On behalf of CT, director Rod Donington-Smith has written to IRP chairman  Prof. Chris Hawkesworth to express concerns regarding certain issues associated with the old MRWS and the “new” screening process.

Dear Professor Hawkesworth,

Representatives from Cumbria Trust attended the 23rd June meeting between Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) and the Independent Review Panel (IRP), and others have since reviewed the footage of the meeting. We would point out that Cumbria Trust is not an anti-nuclear organisation but one that wishes to ensure that a rational policy based upon safety not political expedience is followed when dealing with radioactive waste. While we have serious reservations about the process which RWM is beginning, having experienced some rather devious behaviour from DECC / NDA during the previous MRWS process, we were very encouraged to hear members of the IRP challenging RWM’s position.

History suggests that independent groups such as IRP, often start out with good intentions, only to become weaker and more compliant to government wishes over time. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is a clear illustration of this danger. CoRWM included some genuine independent thinkers at the start who were were not afraid to speak out and who arrived at the conclusion, which Cumbria Trust accepts as being probably the least bad option, that there was a need for a Geological Disposal Facility for at least some legacy waste backed up by secure interim storage facilities. However when you compare the present day CoRWM with their predecessors, it now seems a timid group which acts as a façade of independence for DECC. What was a challenging and robust group has effectively been de-clawed to become a docile and obedient pet, unwilling to speak out or criticise government policy. We trust that IRP will not follow this path, as a truly independent panel on such an important project is vital to the success of this process, and more importantly to the safety of future generations.

At least two of your members, John Black and Dr Robert Chaplow, appear to agree with Cumbria Trust, that RWM’s role in providing the narrative for the screening guidance may be inadvisable. We believe that the screening process should be conducted independently of RWM, once the screening criteria have been set by RWM in conjunction with IRP. For RWM to provide the narrative to the BGS mapping, leaves open the possibility of actual or perceived manipulation of the output to ensure that certain predetermined areas are judged to be more suitable for a GDF, than should be the case. John Black acknowledged this exact point in response to a question.

There is a significant risk that if RWM proceeds with this screening process as planned, public trust will be lost from the start, whether or not they do actually choose to manipulate the screening process this time. While RWM was keen to reassure us that the process would be ‘open and transparent’ , we have had very similar reassurances during MRWS in the 2010s and Nirex in the 1990s, both of which proved to be false. The hidden manipulation of the 2010 BGS Screening Report (MRWS stage 2) between draft and final versions, bringing some excluded areas back into play, illustrates the danger.

Cumbria Trust shares Professor Richard Smith’s concern that for the IRP to review the initial document, which includes almost no technical detail, and then for the IRP to have no further formal role before seeing the final output of the BGS mapping / RWM narrative is a fundamentally flawed and inefficient process. The IRP should be involved at all stages of the process in producing the screening guidance, including scrutinising the final BGS contract, with commercial details redacted if necessary. RWM need to be reminded of their commitment to an open and transparent process, which is essential if public trust is to be retained.

We sincerely hope that IRP continues to scrutinise, speak out and robustly defend its independence. We would ask that you circulate this letter to all of the members of the IRP.

Yours sincerely,

Rod Donington-Smith
For and on behalf of Cumbria Trust