Legislators have branded officials 'irresponsible' over a decision to keep radioactive waste stored under a school in Wan Chai.
However, Deputy Secretary for Environment and Food Kim Salkeld dismissed the criticism as 'wild claims' and said the material, stored in a World War II air-raid shelter, would pose no harm to students' health.
At a Legco environmental affairs panel meeting yesterday, legislators expressed anger at the way officials had dealt with the 55 cubic metres of radioactive waste stored in a tunnel under the Wah Yan College in Queen's Road East.
'When you indirectly become murderers in the future, you will regret the decision you have made,' Democrat Albert Chan Wai-yip said.
Four students have been diagnosed with cancer since 1996, according to school principal George Tam Siu-ping, although no link has been determined. He has urged the Government to remove the material.
The Government has long planned to create a designated dump for radioactive material, but a proposal to build one on Siu A Chau, south of Lantau, was dropped in 1997 because operating costs were deemed too high. The Government is discussing with mainland authorities the possibility of disposing waste there.
The Government stored low-level waste in the old air-raid shelter area from 1965 to 1990. It was the only such dump in the territory. Since 1990, all new waste has had to be stored and disposed of by those who create it, subject to an annual inspection by the Department of Health.
The Government promised to decide this year whether to export the waste to the mainland or re-start the project to build a local centre. It will take at least another 2.5 years to finish construction if the latter option is chosen.
The slow progress was criticised by lawmakers. Choy So-yuk, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said: 'The issue has dragged on for so long. The Government is irresponsible. It should give a fixed timetable for moving the waste from underneath the school,' she said.
'If it is as safe as you say, then why is there a need to move it somewhere else? Why don't you just keep it in the air-raid shelter, or even better, store it at government headquarters?' Ms Choy said.
Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming said the waste should be stored in Mr Salkeld's home.
Mr Salkeld said: 'There has been quite a lot of wild statements made in this chamber today.
'The problem is how much you and the community are prepared to pay. Is it cost effective to spend a huge amount of money to treat a small amount of material?' he said.