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Launch of 'bulk quantities' consultation

We would like to ask for your views on plans to update the criteria by which we will make a licensing decision on a future Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) in England or Wales. Full details are set out in a consultation document.

It is the UK government’s policy to dispose of higher activity radioactive waste through emplacement in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). Geological disposal involves placing radioactive waste deep underground where a suitable rock formation provides long-term protection by acting as a barrier against escape of radioactivity and by isolating the waste from effects at the surface. There is no facility currently available in the UK.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has no role in identifying the site for a GDF but the UK government has committed that a GDF would be subject to the requirements of the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (NIA65) and be licensed by ONR. This licensing requirement would provide the necessary regulatory oversight to ensure that any future facility can demonstrate the high standards of safety and security required by UK law.

Our licensing framework does not currently allow licensing of disposal facilities. The UK government intends to update the law to include licensing of disposal facilities; which is one of the recommendations from the recent IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service Mission.

We expect that the UK government will take a similar approach to prescribing disposal as that previously taken for storage, requiring a nuclear site licence for installations designed or adapted for disposal of ‘bulk quantities’ of radioactive matter. NIA65 does not give a definition of what is meant by ‘bulk quantities’, meaning we must interpret its meaning when making licensing decisions.

This consultation relates to how we will interpret ‘bulk quantities’ when applying the revised legislation to make a decision to licence a future GDF. While addressing this matter, we are also seeking to update how we make licensing decisions relating to storage because of other recent changes to the law.

Although a licensing decision in respect of any disposal facility for higher activity radioactive waste is some years away, we consider it appropriate to progress work now to underpin such decisions to give clarity on application of the nuclear site licensing regime and provide assurance to communities potentially interested in engaging with the siting process. The consultation is entirely separate to the ongoing national siting process for a future GDF in England and Wales.

Our consultation will run from 19 November 2020 – 17 January 2021.