As a pioneer of nuclear technology, the UK has accumulated a legacy of higher activity radioactive waste. The UK’s radioactive waste inventory is currently stored securely at various sites. However, each of these sites requires constant maintenance and protection to keep it safe and secure. Geological disposal is internationally recognised as the safest way to dispose permanently of higher activity radioactive waste.
Today I am publishing the policy paper, “Implementing Geological Disposal: Working with Communities: An updated framework for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste”. This document sets out the Government’s overarching policy framework for managing higher activity radioactive waste through implementing geological disposal and how we will work with communities to find a location for a geological disposal facility. Alongside publishing this policy paper, the Government are also today launching a new national consent-based process to find a site to host a geological disposal facility (GDF).
A GDF will be a highly engineered structure at a depth of between 200-1,000 metres, which will be used to isolate radioactive waste behind several barriers to ensure that no harmful amount of radioactivity ever reaches the surface environment. The structure will feature vaults and tunnels built inside a suitable, stable rock, within which packaged solid waste in purpose-built containers will be emplaced and then backfilled and sealed.
The GDF will be a multi-billion-pound infrastructure investment and will provide skilled jobs and benefits to the community that hosts it for more than 100 years. Delivering a GDF to dispose permanently of the UK radioactive waste inventory is a responsible public service to future generations and will contribute to the Government’s industrial strategy, which identified the key role the nuclear sector has in increasing productivity and driving clean growth.
There is no preferred location for a GDF and we are adopting a consent-based process to identify a suitable area to host the facility. A suitable site will be determined jointly by the willingness of a community to host a GDF and the suitability of the geology in the area. The process to find a location for the GDF will be led by RWM (Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority), who will work in partnership with local authorities and other community representatives to find a suitable location. Local authorities will have a key role in the decision-making process and will be required to test public support in the local area for a GDF being located there before construction can proceed.
The policy paper we are publishing today applies to England only. Although the “Working with Communities” consultation was published jointly by the UK Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Executive is currently suspended, a decision cannot be made at this time on further involvement by Northern Ireland in the geological disposal programme. Future policy decisions in relation to geological disposal in Northern Ireland would be a matter for the Executive.
The Welsh Government consulted in parallel with the UK Government on a similar process for engaging with communities and is separately publishing a summary of the issues raised, and their response to the consultation. Scotland has a different policy for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste and is not participating in the geological disposal programme.
Alongside the policy paper, I am also publishing separately a summary of the responses to the working with communities policy consultation that took place between 25 January and 18 April 2018 and the Government’s response to the key issues raised. The responses to the consultation demonstrated broad support for the approach to engaging with communities. We have accepted the feedback we received on the benefit of providing additional detail and clarity on parts of the process for working with communities, particularly in relation to the role of principal local authorities.
Alongside this, RWM is publishing a suite of documents that include detailed guidance on how they will work with communities and regional reports from its national geological screening exercise, which will provide communities with information about the geology across the country. RWM is also publishing a draft site evaluation framework document for consultation, which describes the factors that it will take into account in evaluating prospective sites for a GDF.
The response to the consultation on the draft national policy statement (NPS) for geological disposal infrastructure and the BEIS Select Committee report on the NPS will be published separately in due course, alongside a revised proposal for the NPS. Overall, the draft NPS is fit for purpose and contains the adequate levels of guidance and details needed by the developer.