Nuclear waste disposal in West Cumbria


The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management




CoRWM is the oxymoronic independent (but government-funded) committee charged with "independent scrutiny and advice to the UK governments on the long term management of higher activity radioactive wastes". Its original membership changed due to government pressure; Dr K. Baverstock was sacked  "following his questions about the refusal of the Committee to take proper account of technical knowledge (and some dubious contractual procedures)", and "Professor David Ball resigned from the Committee through frustration over its approach to decision making which was evidently going to be grounded more in opinion than sound science" [quotations here].

CoRWM currently has had three incarnations:

  • CoRWM-1 (2001-2006)
  • CoRWM-2 (2007-2012)
  • CoRWM-3 (2013-    )

CoRWM-1 published its final report in July 2006. It gave the government what it wanted - a voluntarist approach to seeking a deep geological waste disposal site. CoRWM-1 had no earth scientists on its committee. But some of its recommendations, for example, on separating the issue of legacy waste from future 'new build' waste were ignored.

In February 2011 CoRWM-2 wrote to Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Cumbria, an NDA-funded so-called 'Partnership' (but with with dubious legal status), to assert that there was no basis for my views (as expressed on this website) regarding the unsuitability of West Cumbria. CoRWM wrote:


"there is presently no credible scientific case to support the contention that all of West Cumbria is geologically unsuitable".


I refuted the bald assertion above with a detailed 35-page review of the geology and hydrogeology of Cumbria. I sent the review both to MRWS and to CoRWM on 12 April 2011. CoRWM-2 had two geologists on its committee, who jointly or severally have the expertise to review my document. Despite my asking CoRWM for a substantive response, this committee only responded on 1 June 2011 with another bland 2-page letter. It appeared to be unable to answer my criticisms.

Since CoRWM-3 started the older CoRWM documents have become harder to access. I have collated all the documents I downloaded up to 14 October 2012 into one big text-searchable pdf file (1365 pages). This may help, if you have a suitable search phrase to find what you want.

Professor Robert Pickard: He was appointed in July 2007 to chair a reconstituted CoRWM (CoRWM-2). An official news release described him as follows:

"Professor Robert Pickard is Chairman of the Consumers' Association Which?, Director-General of the British Nutrition Foundation, Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Cardiff, Visiting Professor at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, and Fellow of the Institute of Biology and the Royal Society of Medicine. For the Department of Health and the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, Professor Pickard is also Chairman of the national NGO Forum, which facilitates the interface between government policymakers and 94 NGOs working for health improvements. He is an international authority on the biology of honeybees and pioneered the development of solid-state, neural microbiosensors in the UK."

Professor Pickard replied to a letter from a Cumbrian resident, Colin Wales, who wrote to CoRWM in early 2012. Regarding the 'screening out' process applied to West Cumbria by the British Geological Survey in 2010, Professor Pickard correctly states that Longlands Farm in particular "is within the non-excluded area but that does NOT indicate that the site is suitable. All that this indicates is that it has passed some very simple screening tests, based largely around the presence of mineral or water resources".

Mr Wales pointed out that unsuitable geology had been screened out by Finland and Sweden before asking for volunteer communities to present themselves, and that this logical order of events was being mispresented by the West Cumbrian MRWS partnership. In response, Professor Pickard stated "It could be argued that the British process has also screened out unsuitable geology before asking communities to volunteer." This latter quotation is inconsistent with the first quotation above describing the BGS study as 'simple screening tests'. There was no doubt that the BGS study was not intended to be an in-depth study of the suitability or otherwise of West Cumbrian geology. So the second quoted statement above by Professor Pickard is either disingenuous, or else he did not really understand the difference between a screening-out procedure and a full geological study.

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