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Nuclear decommissioning in the UK

Decommissioning    NO2Nuclear Power. Safe Energy Journal  78 The UK government has launched a consultation on the future regulation of nuclear sites in the final stages of decommissioning and clean-up. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the consultation seeks to enable a “more flexible approach that can optimise waste management, thereby realising environmental benefits and reducing costs”.

Of the 36 nuclear sites located across England, Wales and Scotland, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of 17. Other sites to be decommissioned in the future include the operational nuclear power stations owned by EDF Energy, and other nuclear sites in the nuclear fuel cycle, reprocessing, waste management, pharmaceutical and research sectors.

 In the UK, the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (NIA65) provides the legal framework for nuclear safety and nuclear third-party liability and sets out a system of regulatory control based on a robust licensing process administered by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Under this regime, a site operator is required to have a licence to use a site for specified activities such as the operation of nuclear power stations. In addition to the nuclear site licensing regime, the NIA65 requires that financial provision is in place to meet claims in the event of a nuclear incident, as required under international law on nuclear third-party liability.

The consultation proposals include changing the NIA65 to allow licensees to exit the licensing regime once the site has reached internationally agreed standards and nuclear safety and security matters have been fully resolved. After the licence has been ended, the site would be regulated by the relevant environment agency and the Health and Safety Executive, in the same way that non-nuclear industrial sites undergoing clean-up for radioactive or other contamination are regulated.

 Proposals for further clean-up would be assessed by the relevant environment agency under the Radioactive Substances Regulations.  BEIS said this process would enable the site operator to work with the community to establish the “most appropriate” end-state for the site and would result in improved waste management and other environmental benefits.

BEIS proposes to implement two recent decisions by the OECD Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy concerning the exclusion of certain sites from the nuclear third-party regime when the main nuclear hazards have been removed and the risks to the public are small. It also proposes to tighten the licence surrender process to require a licensee to apply to ONR to surrender the licence, and to strengthen requirements for ONR to consult with HSE when the licence is surrendered or varied. (1)

The Government says the main reasons for change are:

  • nuclear third party liability currently continues beyond the point at which it is no longer required. The UK has not yet implemented the decisions of the OECD Steering Committee for Nuclear Energy concerning the exclusion of certain sites from the nuclear liability regime;
  • site operators wishing to exit the NIA65 licensing regime are required to clean-up the site in a way that does not allow them to balance the overall safety and environmental risks and this may result in unnecessary costs; and
  • · disposal facilities for radioactive waste located on nuclear licensed sites remain subject to nuclear licensing. Such sites are also regulated by the environment agencies. This is considered dual regulation which is unnecessary after nuclear safety matters have been resolved.

The UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a discussion paper on the regulation of nuclear sites in the final stages of decommissioning and cleanup in November 2016. The NFLA responded here:

This response concluded that:

There is a danger that what is being proposed will simply be seen as turning nuclear sites into nuclear dumps as a way of saving money.

The concept of “optimisation” which is decided by the operator and regulators making value judgements needs to be replaced with the concept of the Best Practicable Environmental Option which uses a systematic consultative and decision making procedure.

Any part of a nuclear site upon which it is proposed to allow unrestricted use must be able to show that doses to members of the public will be of the order of 0.01mSv or less per year. Using a risk factor in conjunction with probability of receiving a dose is too flexible and unacceptable.

Any waste left on-site much be concentrated and contained in a monitorable, retrievable store.

Former nuclear operators should remain liable for any future unexpected events and should also be liable to pay for any regulatory effort in perpetuity.

 These earlier proposals appear to allow for the unrestricted use of sites which may have nuclear waste buried and which could be capable of administering doses of up to 20mSv/yr if human intrusion occurs.

The HSE Criterion for De-Licensing Nuclear Sites (2005) says the Basic Safety Standards Directive (Euratom 96/29) allows member states to exempt a practice where appropriate and without further consideration if doses to members of the public are of the order of 0.01mSv or less per year. HSE is of the view that this dose limit broadly equates to a risk of 10-6 ‘as well as being consistent with other legislation and international advice relating to the radiological protection of the public. The environment agencies Guidance on Requirements for Authorisation (GRA) on Near Surface Disposal Facilities for Solid Radioactive Waste (Near Surface GRA) says that a risk level of 10-6 per year is equivalent to a calculated dose of around 0.02mSv/yr, where the probability of receiving the dose is one.

The consultation is open until 3rd July, and is available here:


June 23, 2018 - Posted by | decommission reactor, UK

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