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Radwaste moves

Loviisa nuclear power plant – home to Finland's nuclear repository. Photo courtesy

Geoscientist 17.6 June 2007

UK geological disposal of radioactive waste moves on, notes Charles Curtis

In January 2006, the Society hosted a meeting at Burlington House to review and discuss international perspectives on deep geological disposal as a means of managing radioactive wastes safely for the long term. The meeting was conceived as a contribution to the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely consultation process, initiated in 2001.

In Stage Two of the process, the Committee on Radioactive Wastes Management (CoRWM) was charged with consulting widely and “…to oversee a review of options for the long term management of the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste, and to recommend the option, or combination of options, that could provide a long-term solution, providing protection for people and the environment”. Several members of CoRWM were present at Burlington House including Gordon MacKerron, CoRWM Chairman. The post-Conference report Confidence in the Safe Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste was cited directly in CoRWM’s recommendations1.

In its response to CoRWM’s recommendations in October 2006, the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations (Government) decided that responsibility for securing geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste should fall to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), creating one organisation able to take a strategic view through all stages of the waste management chain2.

The Government’s shares in Nirex were transferred to the NDA and the majority of Nirex staff have moved to the NDA, ensuring that the necessary skills, knowledge and experience are protected. The integration was completed with effect from 2 April 2007 and the NDA now performs the functions previously undertaken by Nirex. A new Directorate has been established within the NDA - the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) – which will be led by Richard Waite. This effectively brought to a close the second stage of the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) consultation programme.

The next stage of the Government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS Stage Three) programme is to undertake a public consultation in the summer on the framework for the implementation of geological disposal. This will include proposals for a voluntarist/partnership approach to site selection, and also an outline geological disposal delivery programme.

The Society will also have contributed directly to this stage of the process in that preparation for stage three has included an expert review of possible scientific criteria for screening out areas unsuitable for a repository – this has been chaired by immediate Past President Peter Styles.