Wales launches consultation on radioactive waste disposal

The Welsh Government has launched a consultation on the disposal of higher activity radioactive waste (HAW) and is seeking views on whether the country should review its policy on managing nuclear waste.

Wales launches consultation on radioactive waste disposal The paper, ‘Review of Welsh Governmental Policy on the Management and Disposal of Higher Activity Radioactive Waste’, was published on Thursday (23 October) by the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant AM.

The Welsh Government is required by the EU to report on its policy for the safe and responsible management of radioactive waste by summer 2015. As such, earlier this year, the Welsh Government issued a call for evidence on radioactive waste disposal, which asked for views on whether Wales should review its policy on HAW. The responses to this were considered and the decision was made to review the policy.

The new consultation document outlines a range of options the government could take and seeks comments on proposals for new policy.

The government’s preferred options are to adopt a policy for the disposal of higher activity radioactive waste and for geological disposal to be the long-term management route for HAW. According to the consultation document, burying radioactive waste deep underground is preferred as ‘currently, this… is the only viable means of disposal’.

Currently, the Welsh Government supports plans for new nuclear power stations on existing sites in Wales such as Wylfa Newydd . But, while the UK Government has supported a policy of geological disposal for the management of radioactive waste since 2008, the Welsh Government has neither supported nor opposed this policy. However, it has now acknowledged that adopting a policy for the disposal of HAW would be ‘more consistent’ with its policy of supporting new nuclear power stations on existing sites.


The consultation asks stakeholders:

  • Should the Welsh Government seek to: adopt a policy for disposal of HAW and spent fuel declared as waste; retain its neutral position; or adopt a policy opposing the disposal option?
  • Should the Welsh Government adopt a policy for geographical disposal for the long-term management of HAW and spent fuel declared as waste?
  • If it does not adopt geological disposal, should the Welsh Government adopt a policy for alternative disposal, and if so what?

The document highlights that should the Welsh Government adopt its preferred option, it would not necessarily lead to a geographical disposal facility (GDF) being sited in Wales. It also outlines ‘stringent requirements’ that will need to be in place before a GDF is sited in Wales.

The closing date for responses is 22 January 2015.

“We have taken no final decisions”

Wales’s Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, commented: “This review will be done in an open and transparent way and as a first step we are consulting on the principle of HAW and if so whether geological disposal should be the means of disposal.

“I want to reassure people that, although the Welsh Government has issued this consultation with preferred options, we have taken no final decisions, and we want anyone with a view to contribute feed into the process.”

He added: “I also want to emphasise that, following this consultation, even if the Welsh Government does decide to adopt a policy involving geological disposal of HAW this would not necessarily result in radioactive waste being disposed of in Wales or indeed in any other part of the UK. Any future disposal facility would depend on a host community voluntarily coming forward to open discussions.”

The radioactive waste problem

Currently, all radioactive waste (including nuclear waste) in the UK is contained in surface-level stores across the country. Indeed, the UK’s largest nuclear processing site at Sellafield in Cumbria (where 70 per cent of the UK’s total nuclear waste either arises or is reprocessed) is scheduled to be decommissioned over the next decade, fuelling the urgency for finding suitable ways of dealing with nuclear waste, especially as a report released by the National Audit Office in November 2012 condemned the existing storage of nuclear waste at the Sellafield site as ‘outdated’.

However, to date, the UK has not implemented a final disposal solution for HAW that would ‘obviate the need for future intervention and would ensure that no harmful amounts of radioactivity are released to the environment at any point in the future’.

Despite this, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), decided that what it calls ‘geological disposal’ – burying it deep beneath the ground – is the safest way to manage HAW. But the search for a viable nuclear waste storage facility stalled last year, after councillors from Cumbria, the last remaining community to volunteer to host the site, voted against continuing the search for a site to potentially host the £12-billion underground disposal facility in the area.

Read the consultation paper.

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