Scottish Government
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Future of radioactive waste management

A consultation published today seeks to find responsible solutions to managing Scotland's legacy of radioactive waste.

Scotland's Higher Activity Radioactive Waste Policy aims to ensure that the treatment, storage and disposal of such waste is done in a way that offers maximum protection to people and the environment.

Publishing the consultation, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

"The nuclear industry's legacy is higher activity radioactive waste that we have been left to manage at great expense. This is not a legacy we chose to be burdened with but it exists and we must now focus on finding a responsible solution for managing it.

"The consultation supports our commitment to near surface, near site facilities, allowing waste to be monitorable and retrievable with minimal need for transportation over long distances. Having an out of sight out of mind policy is losing support. The Scottish Government is leading the way in reflecting the most up to date thinking and international practice.

"This is not a one size fits all approach; we want to see waste management plans and facilities that are designed to manage the different types of higher activity radioactive waste that we have in Scotland. We have a duty to responsibly manage this waste to protect people and our environment.

"We have been working extremely closely with stakeholders to shape the consultation and will continue to do so. Their views have influenced the development of our detailed statement of policy, and I thank them for their time and input.

"The very fact we have to deal with this radioactive waste, left behind by those who came before us, underlines why the Scottish Government's decision to rule out new nuclear power stations was the right one. We do not want future generations to be confronted with even greater radioactive waste challenges than those we face today."

The term "higher activity radioactive waste" is used collectively to describe different materials which are radioactively contaminated and in some cases will be for many thousands of years. It typically comes from nuclear power research and electricity generation. 75 per cent of higher activity radioactive waste in Scotland comes from three materials: Graphite; Activated Metals; and, Contaminated Metals.

Graphite is a solid form of the element carbon that is used in nuclear reactors to slow down neutrons in the reactor core so that fission can take place. Fission is the process of splitting atoms to produce energy. During this process the graphite itself becomes radioactive due to bombardment.

Activated Metal items are structural components and fuel assembly cladding that have been used inside a reactor also become radioactive due to bombardment with neutrons.

Contaminated Metal items are tools and pipework that can become contaminated on the surface by traces of radioactive material which are transferred to them. This contamination is often limited to the surface of the metal items.

Higher activity radioactive waste is robustly regulated. Any proposals for treatment, storage or disposal of radioactive waste would have to comply with our health, safety, security and environmental regulatory framework. This robust framework provides opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement.

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