Following consultation, we and the devolved administrations will set up a new independent body to review all long-term options for managing UK solid radioactive waste and to make recommendations to us. We shall establish it as soon as possible and we hope to receive its report and announce our decision on the UK's long-term strategy by 2006.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. She is right to want to come to the correct decision and to bring people along with her. However, it seems to me that a consensus has emerged among environmental groups and the industry that we should deposit that material underground in a way that makes it possible to recover it later if necessary, and that the only reasonable place for that is at Sellafield. As we shall reach that conclusion whether we take one year or four years to discuss the matter, should we not make the decision now and concentrate on making the process safe and determining how to compensate the local community for its involvement?
I agree with my hon. Friend that at present there seems to be a growing number of voices making some of the points that he has just made. However, experience of the subject suggests that as soon as anybody starts to think that there is a consensus and to coalesce around it, a lot of other voices are heard saying something wholly different. Select Committees in both Houses recommended that the course of action that we are pursuing is right. As it will probably take billions of pounds and about a hundred years to deal with the issue, it is probably still worth trying to put in the investment up-front to get it right.
Yes, I am aware of that. That is part of what I meant when I was replying to my hon. Friend Dr. Ladyman. He identified a number of elements and said that a lot of people think this or that and that a lot of people think that there should be retrievable underground storage. That is all true, but unfortunately as soon as one starts to get more concrete and to decide where the pattern of agreement might emerge, difficulties emerge with it. We have set in train a process to try to ensure that we build up an understanding of what really is the broad basis of acceptance and that is the right thing to do.