Public consultation on Policy for the Long-term Management of solid Low Level Radioactive Waste in the UK

DEFRA has recently initiated a consultation on the UK's management strategy for solid Low Level Radioactive Waste.

This policy review has been driven by the formation of the NDA and the resultant accelerated decommissioning of redundant nuclear facilities. It has been identified that there are both short and long-term capacity gaps between the total volume of LLW requiring disposal and the available disposal routes - principally the Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) near the village of Drigg in West Cumbria.

In the Spring 2006 edition of Quintessa Update we reported on the work Quintessa has been undertaking to help address the Post-Closure Safety Case (PCSC) issues for the LLWR near Drigg. The currently unresolved PCSC issues have thrown the future of the site into doubt, with potentially significant consequences for both nuclear and non-nuclear industry waste producers and the NDA alike.

Quintessa has taken a holistic approach to addressing both these issues. We believe that in order to achieve the objectives of the proposed LLW management strategy a national Best Practicable Environmental Option (BPEO) assessment is required, underpinned by a risk-based review of the definitions of LLW, Very LLW (VLLW) and exempted waste. This will enable the volumes of different wastes requiring disposal to different types of facilities to optimised, e.g. LLW to a highly engineered facility such as the LLWR near Drigg, or VLLW to a landfill type facility. The national BPEO could be used to assess the requirement for a single national facility such as the LLWR, or a larger number of regional repositories in order to reduce and optimise the amount of waste transport against other issues.

The proposed national BPEO assessment would provide a mechanism to facilitate the identification of the best national waste management option. This would provide a basis to help address the PCSC issues with the LLWR near Drigg. It may be that continued disposals to the LLWR would be shown to be in the national interest, i.e. the BPEO, even allowing for the current assessment of site impacts. If local site impacts are assessed to be As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) through an engineering optimisation programme, and this is also the national ALARA option, this would provide the context required within which the regulators could allow continued disposals. To read Quintessa's full response click here.

Complex decisions such as a national BPEO need to be undertaken in a logical, clear, transparent and auditable manner. Quintessa has significant experience and expertise in facilitating such decision-making processes; for example our recent work for CoRWM. Quintessa has developed the tool TESLA to support such decision-making processes. TESLA enables key decisions and areas of uncertainty to be recorded and explored. The sensitivity of decisions to key uncertainties can be examined enabling the key issues to be identified and addressed. For further information on TESLA click here.

Image Courtesy of LLWR Limited.