Treatment and packaging of higher activity wastes
To date, less than 10% of the HAW in the UK Radioactive Waste Inventory has been treated and packaged to make it suitable for interim storage and subsequent disposal.
We are scrutinising progress in treating and packaging HAW, including R&D on new treatment methods and package types. Our findings to date are in our 2009 report to Government on Interim Storage (doc. 2500) and out subsequent annual reports (docs. 2807, 2922, 3036)
Key CoRWM recommendation
- Greater strategic co-ordination of treatment and packaging of HAW.
Transport of higher activity wastes
There is currently very little transport of HAW in the UK. There will be much more in the future. HAW could be transported from one nuclear site to another for treatment or further storage. Eventually transport to disposal facilities will be required.
We considered transport in our 2009 report on interim storage (doc. 2500). We found that there is a need for:
- better strategic coordination of transport plans
- more public and stakeholder engagement (PSE) on transport.
We are following developments closely.
Storage of higher activity wastes
Our findings on storage of HAW are in our 2009 report on interim storage (doc. 2500)
The Government aim is that there should be arrangements for safe and secure storage for at least 100 years. The 100 year timescale is based on a CoRWM recommendation made in 2006 (doc. 700). We found that plans were adequate to meet the Government's aim but the UK approach to HAW storage was fragmented and not robust.
Key CoRWM recommendation:
- Greater UK-wide strategic co-ordination of plans for the storage of HAW.
After our 2009 report the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) started a project to produce Nuclear Industry Guidance on Interim Storage of Higher Activity Waste Packages. The project involved all the nuclear industry organisations and the regulators. The first version of the guidance came out in 2011 and the second in 2012 (NDA website). We think that following this guidance will help considerably in making storage arrangements more robust. We are also pleased that co-ordination of storage plans is being improved through work such as that by NDA on its integrated waste management strategy (NDA IWM Strategy) . Further details of our views on storage of higher activity wastes are in our annual reports (docs. 2807, 2922, 3036)
Management of spent fuels
UK has several types of spent nuclear fuel to deal with from both closed and operating nuclear power stations. There are also small quantities of non-standard “exotic fuels”, mostly from research reactors long closed down. Some spent fuels are being reprocessed to recover plutonium and uranium. Other spent fuels need to be conditioned and packaged for disposal.
We are following NDA development and implementation of its topic strategies for spent fuels (NDA Topic Strategies), EDF progress with dry storage of Sizewell B spent fuel, and the plans of prospective operators of new nuclear power stations for storage of their spent fuel prior to its geological disposal.
Management of plutonium and uranium
We responded to the Government consultation on the long-term management of plutonium in 2011, focusing on waste-related aspects. We are scrutinising NDA work on the Government’s preferred method for the long-term management of plutonium, which is re-use as mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in light water reactors (LWRs), either in the UK or overseas. We will also be looking at NDA work on alternatives, such as burning plutonium in fast reactors, again focusing on waste aspects.
There are materials containing uranium on a number of nuclear sites in the UK. The NDA is developing a topic strategy for uranic materials, which will set out plans for the materials it owns.
In our 2009 report on interim storage (doc. 2500) we recommended that owners of uranium (e.g.NDA, the Ministry of Defence, EDF) co-ordinate their work.
We are monitoring NDA’s work and other developments.
Co-ordination of research and development
Co-ordination of R&D related to the treatment, packaging, storage and transport of higher activity wastes has improved since our 2009 R&D report (doc. 2543). It is mainly carried out by the Nuclear Waste Research Forum (NWRF), which has new terms of reference and includes all the major nuclear industry organisations and the regulators.
At a higher level there is the NDA Research Board (NDA website
), which has been reconstituted and has an independent Chair. NWRF reports to the NDA Research Board. We attend NWRF and NDA Research Board meetings as observers.
Our views on further improvements to co-ordination of R&D are in our comments on the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology and on the Government response to that report (doc. 2995
Organisations we work with
Much of our work involves scrutinising the development by NDA of its topic strategies for HAW, spent fuels, plutonium and uranium.
We also monitor the progress and plans of other waste producers, including EDF and the Ministry of Defence. We keep in contact with the regulators of the nuclear industry: the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.