Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Low level radioactive waste policy announced

Low level radioactive waste policy announced

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref:91/07) issued by The Government News Network on 26 March 2007

A new UK policy for managing solid low level radioactive waste has been published by the UK Government and the devolved administrations today.

The policy, which follows a public consultation in 2006, puts proving public safety at the forefront of dealing with low level radioactive waste (LLW), and sets out a more flexible and pragmatic approach to managing LLW. It also 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.

The new policy statement outlines the priorities for managing low level radioactive waste responsibly and 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, through avoiding generation, minimising the amount of radioactive substances used, recycling and reuse;

* 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 national disposal facility near Drigg in Cumbria 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 Government, in conjunction with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to undertake a study that gives a clear picture of future low level waste from the non-nuclear sector;

* Emphasising the need to involve communities and the wider public in developing and delivering LLW management plans.

Ian Pearson, UK Minister for Environment and Climate Change, said:

"Today's policy announcement will ensure that we have safe and appropriate disposal routes for low level radioactive waste in the future. It will ensure that they are flexible enough to accommodate the wide range of types and radioactivity of wastes that result from both nuclear and non-nuclear activity.

"The review of how we manage low level radioactive waste complements the ongoing work the Government is carrying out on the policy for managing higher activity radioactive wastes under the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme, following recommendation made by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in July 2006."

Unlike higher-activity wastes, the methods for managing and disposing of LLW in the long term already exist. However the review of managing LLW dealt with a number of new issues, including:

* The decommissioning and clean-up programme being undertaken by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which will greatly increase the amount of LLW generated over the coming decades;

* The lack of long-term capacity at the national LLW disposal facility near Drigg to deal with this waste;

* The diminishing availability of other routes for dealing with LLW;

* The increasing difficulty of finding small-scale treatment and disposal routes for the least radioactive wastes, which are very important for the non-nuclear sectors.

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 0.00003 per cent of its total radioactivity.

Notes to Editors

1. A copy of Ian Pearson's statement to Parliament, and the full policy statement, can be found at

2. The range of radioactivity of LLW can vary by almost five orders of magnitude (that is, from a relative level of one to almost 100,000).

3. 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).

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

5. Disposal of radioactive wastes is closely controlled by the environment agencies, with similar standards applied to either disposal at engineered repositories like the one near Drigg or to landfill. These standards imply that using conservative assumptions the maximum possible radiation dose to a member of the public would be 300 microsieverts per year. By comparison, natural background radiation in the UK ranges from 2000 to 7000 microsieverts a year - ten times the maximum dose allowable by the environment agencies.

6. In practice, the combination of low level activity in any waste and the regulatory requirements to minimise their impacts means that the actual dose to any member of the public would be likely to be around 30 microsieverts per year - around the same as the radiation a person would receive on a one-way flight from London to New York.

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