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Management of radioactive waste

26/03/2007

New measures to manage low level radioactive waste safely have been published today by the Executive, other Devolved Administrations and the UK Government.

The policy statement sets out a more flexible and pragmatic approach to managing Low Level Waste (LLW), stresses the need to minimise the amount of waste created, and recognises the need to involve the public in developing and authorising LLW management plans.

Environment Minister Ross Finnie said:

"We are committed to the safe management of Scotland's radioactive waste.

"This policy statement will ensure that we have safe and appropriate disposal routes for the wide range of low level radioactive waste whether from nuclear or non nuclear activity.

"The review of how we manage low level radioactive waste complements the work we have been doing on the long-term management of higher-activity radioactive waste."

The new policy statement outlines the priorities for managing low level radioactive waste safely by:

  • Allowing greater flexibility in managing the wide range of LLW that already exists and will arise in the future
  • Maintaining a focus on safety, with arrangements supported by the independent regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agencies
  • Seeking to first minimise the amount of low level waste created before looking at disposal options by, through avoiding generation, minimising the amount of radioactive substances used, recycling and reusing
  • Creating a UK-wide strategy for managing low level waste from the nuclear industry, including at what point in the future a replacement (or replacements) for the disposal facility near Drigg might be required and planned, to be developed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • Initiating a UK-wide strategy for the management of non-nuclear LLW. The first step will be for the Scottish Executive and UK Government, in conjunction with the NDA, to undertake a study that gives a clear picture of future non-nuclear low level waste
  • Emphasising the need to involve communities and the wider public in developing and delivering LLW waste management plans

Today's announcement follows a full public consultation in 2006 and two stakeholder workshops in 2005. LLW can occur in a wide variety of chemical and physical forms. Cleaning materials and clothing contaminated when handling radioactive materials is often classified as LLW, as is soil and building rubble resulting from decommissioning activities on sites (both nuclear sites and other sites like hospitals, where radioactive materials have been produced or treated). Of the total predicted future radioactive waste that will be generated in the future, LLW accounts for about 90 per cent by volume and only 0.0003 per cent of its total radioactivity.

Some of the chemical and physical forms in which LLW arises can be burned in incinerators.

Disposal of radioactive wastes to, for instance, engineered repositories is closely controlled by the environment agencies. The radiation doses to members of the public resulting from such disposals should be no more than a few tens of microsieverts each year. By comparison, natural background radiation in the UK ranges from about 2000 to 7000 microsieverts a year.

The review of managing LLW dealt with a number of issues including:

  • The decommissioning and clean-up programme being undertaken by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which will increase the amount of LLW generated over the coming decades
  • The limit on capacity at the national LLW disposal facility at Drigg to deal with this waste
  • The limited availability of other routes for dealing with LLW
  • The lack of small-scale treatment and disposal routes for the least radioactive wastes, which are very important for the non-nuclear sectors