On 25 January 2018, the Government laid before Parliament the draft National Policy Statement (‘NPS’) for Geological Disposal Infrastructure (‘GDI’) which set out the Government’s proposed framework for future development consent orders for a GDI in England. A GDI is a facility made of specially-engineered vaults and tunnels located deep underground that are designed to host the higher activity radioactive waste that cannot be stored at existing surface facilities on a permanent basis. Our Committee was designated to carry out parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPS as required under the Planning Act 2008. The focus of our inquiry was on the content and scope of the NPS; it was not on the merits of geological disposal as a means of disposing of higher activity radioactive waste.
Overall, most of the evidence we received on the scope of the draft NPS was positive. We heard from several stakeholders that the draft NPS was on the whole fit for purpose and adequate, although the same evidence submissions also suggested improvements to the Assessment Principles and Impacts. In addition, we found that the draft NPS satisfactorily reflected lessons improvements from previous failed attempts to find a suitable location for geological disposal and we support the voluntary approach chosen for the siting process.
In this report, we identify and focus on the four issues which we found to be most decisive to building consensus for this process: National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; using the GDI to dispose of waste from new nuclear build; the place of local community consent in the NPS; and how the NPS is linked with the Industrial Strategy to deliver socioeconomic benefits to host communities.
We decided against adding an exclusionary criterion for National Parks and AONBs as in our view it is right for safety matters to prevail over environmental concerns in this case. Although we agree that major developments should not be allowed in designated areas except under exceptional circumstances, we believe that existing planning legislation and the NPS contain sufficient safeguards against intrusive developments and environmental damage in National Parks and AONBs. Moreover, we support the Government’s view that it is conceivable for a GDI to be designed in a way that would be acceptable to communities, preserve the socioeconomic benefits that National Parks and AONBs currently bring them and avoid any intrusive surface facility in conservation areas.
On the inclusion of waste from new nuclear build in the GDI, we conclude that regardless of whether the Government should have embarked upon a new nuclear build programme or not and regardless of whether geological disposal is the best approach to dispose of waste or not, any long-term waste management strategy should include waste from new nuclear as all waste generated from nuclear should be disposed of safely. Nevertheless, the Government must clarify in the NPS the level of uncertainty regarding the inventory of radioactive wastes and materials to be stored in the GDI, especially regarding levels of radioactivity of new nuclear waste.
We support the Government’s decision to keep the community consent process separate from the NPS but we recommend that the Government should clarify the hierarchy between development consent orders and community consent in the NPS in a way that is accessible to a lay audience so as to promote engagement by prospective communities.
Finally, we find the link between the NPS and the Industrial Strategy to be spurious and the emphasis on socioeconomic benefits to the host community insufficient. In order to be consistent with the Industrial Strategy, the Government should ensure that the NPS places stronger requirements on the developer to establish robust local skills partnerships with the host community and to rely on local employment and sourcing opportunities. The Secretary of State should also favour developments that demonstrate they can deliver strong socioeconomic to host communities.
Overall, and with the caveats outlined above, we are satisfied that this NPS provides the right level of guidance to the decision-maker on the type of GDI that will be suitable for England’s legacy and future higher activity radioactive waste. Provided that the Government takes into account our recommendations, we support the case for the final NPS to be brought forward and approved by Parliament.
Published: 31 July 2018