UK completes first steps in Geological Disposal Programme

02 July 2019

The UK has completed the initial actions set out in the 2014 White Paper on implementing geological disposal, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced. Those actions were: developing land-use planning processes; preparing to work with communities; and national geological screening.

In November 2010, the government committed to producing an annual report to Parliament, setting out progress in relation to the management of higher activity radioactive waste and the latest report on the Geological Disposal Programme, covering the period April 2017 to April 2019, will be the last to be produced under this commitment.

On publication of that report last week, BEIS said the government’s revised draft National Policy Statement (NPS) for geological disposal infrastructure is due to be laid in Parliament shortly. The preparation and publication of a draft NPS for consultation marked the completion of the initial action on national land-use planning, it said.

A draft policy that describes the process for working with communities in order to identify a suitable location to develop a geological disposal facility (GDF), Working with Communities, was published for consultation in January 2018. The government published its final policy in December that year in Implementing Geological Disposal - Working with Communities: An updated framework for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste. That document "reiterates the government's overarching policy framework" on implementing geological disposal, BEIS said, including the policy for how Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) - a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority - will engage with local authorities and communities in England to identify a suitable location for a GDF.

This policy sets out how communities that participate in the process: can benefit from early investment; can withdraw from the process; and must indicate they are willing to host a GDF through a Test of Public Support before RWM seeks development consent. There was "broad support" in England for the general approach on engaging with communities, BEIS said, but there were views that the government should provide more clarity on some parts of the process, particularly in relation to the role of local authorities. This was addressed in the final policy - Implementing geological disposal: progress report April 2017 - April 2019.

A new siting process in England was launched in December 2018 and in Wales in January 2019. As the next step for land-use planning, BEIS aims to lay the NPS for Geological Disposal Infrastructure in Parliament shortly with the aim of it being designated. The siting process could take up to 20 years, during which time RWM would conduct detailed technical work at potential sites to assess their suitability. Consultations on how RWM will evaluate prospective sites for a GDF ran from December 2018 to March 2019 in England, and from January to April 2019 in Wales.

During the period covered by the latest report, RWM completed the commitment to undertake national geological screening (NGS), working closely with the British Geological Survey (BGS). The NGS summarises the geology of England, Wales and Northern Ireland that is relevant to the safe disposal of higher-activity radioactive waste, and brings together existing information on: rock type; rock structure; groundwater; natural processes; and resources. RWM's publication of the outputs from the national geological screening exercise marks the completion of the initial action on national geological screening.

A GDF would be a nuclear site, licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965. This means that it will be the role of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to ensure that any future GDF is constructed and operated safety and securely. Prior to construction of a GDF, RWM will be required to have applied for and been granted a nuclear site licence. The ONR published guidance on its regulatory expectations for achieving compliance with the site licence for a future GDF in March 2018 and in November 2018 the regulators published their assessment of RWM’s 2016 generic Disposal System Safety Case. Work on licensing is progressing within government to ensure the relevant regulations are in place, so that the ONR has the necessary powers to license a GDF, BEIS said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News