Wednesday, 05 July 2006 23:15

Exposed: CoRWMs close ties to the nuclear industry

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Exposed: CoRWMs close ties to the nuclear industry Credit

A Spinwatch /NuclearSpin investigation has uncovered documents that seriously question the independence of a crucial British government committee that is looking into the issue of nuclear waste. A highly controversial and divisive issue, nuclear waste is one of the last remaining hurdles that the government has to clear to be able to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear plants.

The independent committee set up to resolve the issue is called the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management – or CoRWM for short. Its task “is to review the options for managing those UK radioactive wastes for which there is no ageed long-term solution.”  <

However our investigation has uncovered that CORWM which is meant to be free of industry and government influence, is closely intertwined with a nuclear company, AMEC NNC, that has a vested interest in both new nuclear build as well as decommissioning.

 AMEC NNC has been acting as CoRWM’s programme manager, as well as managing the discussion at its plenary meetings, organizing its public consultation and procurements procedures as well as its PR company, Luther Pendragon. In fact Luther Pendragon is not contracted to CoRWM at all, but to AMEC NNC.

Despite this, CoRWM has made much of its independence and neutral stance on nuclear. For example, documents released under FOI show that in response to inquiries from journalists, CoRWM put out a statement saying “CoRWM has no position on the desirability or otherwise of nuclear new build”. .

This may be so and its committee members come from a broad spectrum of industry and academia. For example, the Chair is Gordon MacKerron, Director, Sussex Energy Group, SPRU, University of Sussex, members include a former Board Member of Nirex UK, and the former Chair of Greenpeace UK. 

The Secretariat for CoRWM comes from Defra, the government agency that oversees its work. However, the three full-time programme staff are from the nuclear company AMEC NNC, based in Cheshire. AMEC-NNC has a vested interest in both nuclear new build and decommissioning. It is a company has both civil and military nuclear components. “AMEC NNC is fully committed to the Nuclear and Defence markets which we see as our core business areas” says the company, whose clients include: BNFL, British Energy, UKAEA, AWE Aldermaston and a wide range of international nuclear utilities. It has a clear case of a conflict of interest by being involved in CoRWM as well as nuclear new build and decommissioning.

 AMEC NNC stands to be one of the leading companies that will benefit from Nuclear New Build. It has a dedicated section on its website talking about “the benefits our history brings to Nuclear New Build” where the company states it “has a skilled, competent and well-balanced workforce committed to supporting the UK Nuclear Industry and we are eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to use our abilities in support of new nuclear plants”.

But for that new build to happen, the issue of what to do with the current waste has to be resolved. In an article entitles “Waste management strategy critical for nuclear new build” Sam Usher from AMEC NNC tells the company’s in-house magazine “There is an argument that you shouldn’t build new nuclear power station s if you can’t manage the waste from existing ones”.

It is Sam Usher who manages the CoRWM contract for  AMEC NNC. Usher talks about how important the CoRWM contract is to his company.   “This is a high profile contract that puts AMEC at the leading edge of developing nuclear strategy – not only in the waste management industry, but to have an influence on new build”...

At the same time as working for CoRWM, AMEC NNC is promoting is own patented technology for radioactive waste. “One technology that might help with the problem of radioactive waste is GeoMelt®, a propriety AMEC technology”. A paper discussing the GeoMelt technology has even been discussed at CoRWM meetings

In January this year, AMEC joined UKAEA and CH2M HILL to form a new alliance to “target opportunities in the UK’s £56 billion nuclear clean-up market”. Sir Peter Mason, chief executive of AMEC, said at the time: “This team has the right blend of nuclear and commercial skills to win a sizeable slice of the £2 billion a year market.”

 So AMEC are tendering for government contracts on decommissioning and waste at the same time as running the programme for the government’s independent advisors on waste.

A Close Alliance

CoRWM documents show that NNC - the UK’s leading private sector supplier of nuclear engineering, technical and safety services - took up the CoRWM contract in 2004. In July 2005 AMEC completed the acquisition of NNC to form AMEC NNC.

In September 2004, the Chair of CoRWM Gordon MacKerron, “welcomed Sam Usher and his NNC team to their first meeting as CoRWM programme manager. Sam presented his report”. Also at the meeting committee members had to declare “any outside interest which might give rise to a conflict of interest. Mark Dutton declared his employment with NNC (CoRWM's programme management contractor) up to 2002, since when he was only undertaking NNC consultancy work outside the UK”.

Whilst Dutton obviously foresaw that his past employment with NNC was a potential conflict of interest, no one from CoRWM stopped to think that employing NNC was also a conflict of interest. 

 Since becoming programme manager for CoRWM, AMEC NNC has become integral to the CoRWM process, including at Plenary hearings of the committee. For example at the Committee’s Plenary meeting in June 2005 there was a "CoRWM programme update" report by Sam Usher “on progress; decisions and discussions needed at the meeting; and programme risks and challenges”.

 Nearly a year later, documents show that at the CoRWM Plenary meeting in May 2006, on one of the agenda items there was an “Introduction by Sam Usher and Fred Barker (a committee member), including suggestions on managing the discussion”. Sam Usher had also prepared a briefing paper for the meeting.

But AMEC NNC’s invovelvement does not stop there. According to AMEC NNC it has a programme management contract to manage and deliver CoRWM’s programme of work, that, as well as “providing scientific and technical input, includes managing the largest public and stakeholder consultation of its kind in the UK nuclear industry.”

As well as managing public engagement for CoRWM, it also overseas “Procurement Opportunities”. If you look on the CoRWM website, the contact person for “Procurement Opportunities” for the Committee is Sam Usher, from CoRWM who is the contact person for “expressions of interest,” for a report on CoRWM’s integration process “designed to facilitate CoRWM’s decision making process”. Other papers sent to NNC included CoRWM’s “position paper for plutonium”.

When NuclearSpin put in a Freedom of Information request for all correspondence between CoRWM and its current PR company, Luther Pendragon, there was a discussion involving Defra staff, CoRWM and Luther Pendragon as to whether the information could be released.

On 14th March 2006, an official from Defra drafted a response for Nuclear Spin. It said

“Thank you for your emailed Freedom of Information request dated 20 February 2006. [sic] Requesting copies of correspondence and various other forms of communications between CoRWM members and press/PR companies and political lobbying companies.

I have been liaising with Defra’s Information Management Division and CoRWM’s current Media Advisors – Luther Pendragon. Unfortunately the majority of the information you requested cannot be disclosed as it is held by our Media Advisors who are a private sub-contracted company, and any communication/s they hold with CoRWM Members that does not channel via the secretariat (Defra) is held as confidential – between two private parties.”

So here was an admission that CoRWM’s PR company was not actually contracted to the committee but to AMEC NNC, a nuclear company. To make matters worse, the officials had decided that the private contract was not subject to public scrutiny. This meant that the public had no right to the PR activities of an independent government committee because that committee’s PR company was contracted to a private nuclear company with a vested interest in new build.

 However another Defra official offered the advice that “if you have another company dealing with your Media Company and they hold the information on CoRWM’s behalf then under legislation you still hold the information”.

On receipt of this, the Defra official wrote to CoRWM and Luther Pendragon and said that she had written to an official and “told her that LP (Luther Pendragon) are a private company sub-contracted by another private company AMEC NNC. But according to her as they are dealing with information on the Committee’s behalf “we “ still hold the info although it is not held here at Defra and we have to ask them to send to us any info they think can be released to the public Which will require time.”

Although Defra had by now decided to release the information, the crucial part of the email was that “we have to ask them to send to us any info they think can be released to the public”, so the people making the decision about what should be released to the public were not Defra but CoRWM’s PR company, Luther Pendragon.

For CoRWM to succeed in its original remit, the public needs confidence in its recommendations, however these revelations will undermine that confidence just at a time when the CoRWM; the government and the nuclear industry need it most.

 

 

 

Andy Rowell

Andy Rowell is a freelance writer and investigative journalist, specialising in environmental, health and lobbying issues. He is a founder director and member of the Spinwatch editorial collective and a research fellow at the University of Bath. He has written three books, including Green Backlash – Global Subversion of the Environment Movement (1996) and Don’t Worry It Is Safe to Eat, published by Earthscan (2003).