Consultation on waste site selection begins

25 June 2007

The UK has started a consultation on how to choose sites for the long-term management of radioactive wastes.

Last year the UK government accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) that intermediate- and high-level radioactive wastes should be stored in robust facilities above ground until a permanent geologic repository is available.

The next material step in the disposal process would be to define the required facilities and choose suitable sites. Before that can take place, the UK government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has begun a consultation on the process of site selection. It has published a number of proposals based on four pillars:
  • Partnership with potential host communities that allow issues and opportunities to be fully discussed and evaluated.
  • Strong independent regulation by the Health and Safety Executive, environment agencies and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security.
  • Independent scrutiny and advice from a 'reconstituted CoRWM'.
  • That the site selection process would be implemented by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which has an overarching remit to dismantle and dispose of the UK's national nuclear legacy.
It is widely accepted among nuclear industry experts that radioactive waste can be safely stored for the long term in underground facilities that use man-made and natural barriers to isolate wastes from the biosphere. Processes to reach this goal have sometimes in the past been abandoned when inadequate consultation led to intense public opposition and distrust. However, waste management programs in Sweden and Australia have seen communities volunteer to host facilities, and it is this success the UK hopes to emulate.

Britain faces a particularly difficult challenge inradioactive waste management because of the country's history as apioneer of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. This has resulted ina large variety of wastes with different radiological properties beingheld in a variety of packages at sites across the country, some ofthese have been in 'temporary' storage for over 50 years.

The consultation runs until 2 November.

Further information

UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' consultation: A framework for implementing geologic disposal

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: British wastes headed underground