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Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management

Volume 458: debated on Monday 26 March 2007

I am pleased to announce that the review by Government (the UK Government and the devolved administrations) of the long term management of the UK's solid low level radioactive waste (LLW), started on 18 March 2005, has been completed and that the revised policy statement is being published today. Copies of the policy statement have been placed in the Library of the House.

The LLW policy review process complements the ongoing work Government are carrying out on the policy for the management of higher activity radioactive wastes under our Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme, following recommendations made by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in July 2006.

The public consultation on the review of solid LLW management policy was held between 28 February 2006 and 31 May 2006. Some 150 responses were received and a summary of the Government's response to them is also being placed in the Library of the House. As made clear when the consultation was announced, unlike the higher activity wastes, paths for the long term management and disposal of LLW already exist but the review was needed for the following principal reasons:

With the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA's) decommissioning and clean-up programme underway, there will be greatly increased arisings of LLW over the coming decades, and this is already starting to happen;

there will be insufficient long term capacity at the national LLW disposal facility near Drigg in Cumbria to deal with this waste, and the future capacity of this facility is currently under review;

while other disposal routes for certain types of LLW have been used (eg by disposal on or near the site of arising, by controlled and uncontrolled burial to landfill and by incineration), the availability of these other routes has diminished in recent years;

finding small scale treatment and disposal routes for the least radioactive LLW, which are very important for the non-nuclear sectors (hospitals, research and education establishments, and the oil and gas industry) is proving increasingly difficult.

The revised policy puts providing public safety at the forefront of dealing with LLW, and recognises that much LLW has very low levels of radioactivity and can be disposed of in a variety of ways while posing a negligible risk to human health or the environment. The revised policy will:

require very high levels of safety to be maintained through the use of a risk assessed approach, and the preparation of plans and safety cases that are acceptable to the regulatory bodies (including the Environment Agencies and the Health and Safety Executive);

allow greater flexibility in the management of the wide range of LLW that already exists, and will arise in future from the NDA's activities and other nuclear and non-nuclear industry arisings;

seek to minimise the amount of LLW for disposal by application of the waste hierarchy applied in other areas of waste management - avoidance of generation, minimisation, reuse and recycling - prior to disposal;

emphasise the need for effective consultation and public involvement in the development and delivery of LLW waste management plans

make the NDA responsible for development of a UK-wide strategy for the management of nuclear industry LLW, including the identification of the need for additional LLW disposal capacity and facilities;

initiate the first steps towards development of a UK-wide strategy for the management of non-nuclear LLW. The first step in this will be for Government, in conjunction with the NDA, to undertake a study which will give a clear picture of arisings across the UK.

Further information, including the full policy statement, is available at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/radio activitv/waste/index.htm.