Draft National Policy statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure Contents


Geological disposal

1.On 25 January 2018, the Government laid before Parliament the draft National Policy Statement (‘NPS’) for Geological Disposal Infrastructure (‘GDI’)1which 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 (between 200 and 1,000 metres below the surface) that are designed to host permanently the higher activity radioactive waste that cannot be stored at existing surface facilities.2 Radioactive waste is a devolved issue. As a result this NPS applies in England only, although the Appraisal of Sustainability and Habitats Regulations Assessment which informed this NPS considered the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts of nationally significant infrastructure related to geological disposal in Wales and Scotland, given their common borders with England.3

2.According to the latest Inventory for Geological Disposal (hereafter ‘the Inventory’, see Box 1 below), should it be granted development consent, this GDI would be used to store England’s high level and intermediary waste, alongside small proportions of low level waste and other hazardous spent fuels and stocks.4

Box 1. The UK Derived Inventory

The UK Radioactive Waste & Materials Inventory (the Inventory) is the latest national record on radioactive wastes and materials in the UK and is usually compiled by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The Inventory contains information about: radioactive wastes that exist now; radioactive wastes that will arise in future; and radioactive materials—which are radioactive items that are not classed as waste now but may be in future if no further use can be found for them. The Inventory is updated every three years. It is a snapshot of wastes and materials at a specific point in time, called the ‘stock date’. For more information, see Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, UK Radioactive Waste Inventory, About the Inventory—What is the Inventory?, accessed 16 July 2018

For the GDI, the Inventory is undertaken by the developer RWM and called the ‘UK Derived Inventory’ or ‘Inventory for Geological Disposal’. It is also updated every three years and is aimed specifically at identifying the wastes and materials that will need to be stored in the GDI. Information about the latest Inventory for Geological Disposal (dating from 2013) is in section 2.3 of the draft NPS.

3.The search for a safe solution to dispose of higher activity radioactive waste in the UK has a long and contentious history dating back to 1976.5 Following several controversies and strong opposition from local communities to having a site imposed on them, in 2001 the then Government adopted a different approach and established the ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely’ programme.6 In 2006, it led to the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (‘CoRWM’)—an advisory non-departmental body which provides independent advice to UK governments on the long-term management of higher activity radioactive wastes—making a recommendation to the Government that geological disposal was the best available approach for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste.7 Following this recommendation, it became the Government’s policy to dispose of this waste.8 Other countries like Canada, Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and the USA have also adopted this approach.

Our inquiry

4.Our Committee was designated to carry out parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPS as required under the Planning Act 2008. The GDI, if it is ever granted development consent, will be in operation for up to 150 years, and the waste it contains will remain hazardous and therefore require safe storage for hundreds of thousands of years.9 Given these timescales and the risks involved, it is crucial for this NPS to provide robust and rigorous guidance that can stand the test of time.

5.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. Following its initial recommendation, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (‘CoRWM’) reiterated its support for geological disposal in 2013 and the Government reasserted its view that a GDI was the “best available approach for the long-term management of England’s legacy of higher activity radioactive waste” in a 2014 White Paper.10 Our Committee accepts this policy and consequently, our inquiry focused solely on the NPS, how it fits within the Government’s Industrial Strategy and whether it provides adequate guidance for future development consent orders. We were interested in examining both what is within the NPS and what is missing from it. In doing so, we took note of the consultation on the draft NPS11 and the ‘Working With Communities’ consultation12 but we did not examine them in detail, nor did we make recommendations as to their content. However, where we thought that some of the matters they cover should have been included in the draft NPS, we draw it to the Government’s attention in our conclusions and recommendations.

6.In our terms of reference, we sought evidence from stakeholders and members of the public on the NPS’s Assessment Principles, Impacts and supporting documents. We received 12 written evidence submissions from a range of stakeholders and a summary of the consultation responses from the Department.13 We held an oral evidence session on 10 July 2018 during which we heard from the Planning Inspectorate, the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (‘NuLeaf’), Campaign for National Parks, Radioactive Waste Management (‘RWM’), the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (‘CoRWM’), the NGO Forum, and the Minister for Business and Industry. We are grateful for all the evidence and input we received during this inquiry from stakeholders and members of the public. This report concludes our inquiry and clears the way for the Government to bring forward a final NPS that reflects our recommendations.

Key issues

7.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 invariably suggested improvements to the Assessment Principles and Impacts.14 Two of the key players—the Planning Inspectorate, who will have to make a recommendation on development consent orders and RWM ,who will be putting forward any development consent order—were also broadly satisfied with the level of detail and guidance available to them in the draft NPS.15

8.This is not to say that the evidence we received was in full agreement with the NPS. Some stakeholders felt strongly about specific issues within the NPS, as outlined below. However, we agree with one of the witnesses16 that overall the NPS satisfies the content requirements for similar national policy statements under planning legislation. In addition, when asked whether the draft NPS reflected lessons and improvements from previous failed attempts to find a suitable location for geological disposal, most witnesses agreed that it did. We welcome the fact that this draft NPS steers clear from the top-down approach through which previous governments had sought to impose a GDI on a community.17 Another lesson from past unsuccessful attempts was to keep the process as flexible as possible in order to avoid asking communities to make a decision on geological disposal before they have all the information necessary. We will return to this point later in the report.18

9.This led us to focus our inquiry on the four key issues we had identified from the evidence as particularly acute:

i)National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

ii)using the GDI to dispose of waste from new nuclear build;

iii)the place of local community consent in the NPS; and

iv)how the NPS is linked with the Industrial Strategy and will deliver socioeconomic benefits to host communities.

10.We look at these issues in the next four chapters of the report.

2 Radioactive Waste Management, Making sense of geological disposal, 10 February 2017, p 2

4 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, National Policy Statement for geological disposal infrastructure: implementing geological disposal - a consultation, 25 January 2018, para 2.4.

5 Simmons, P and Bickerstaff, K (2006) ‘The participatory turn in UK radioactive waste management policy.’ In: Proceedings of VALDOR-2006. Congrex-Sweden AB, Stocklholm, pp. 529–536

6 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Consultation: Working With Communities - Implementing Geological Disposal, 25 January 2018, Table 1, p 18

7 Radioactive Waste Management, Making sense of geological disposal, 10 February 2017, p 4

9 Same as above, para. 1.5.2. & 2.2.2.

10 Same as above, para 2.1.9.

12 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Consultation: Working With Communities - Implementing Geological Disposal, 25 January 2018

14 Q42 [Stephen Tromans QC]; Professor Neil Hyatt, GDI0013; Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, GDI0009; Copeland Borough Council, GDI0008

15 Q2 [Dr Pauleen Lane] & Q41 [Bruce McKirdy]

16 Q2 [Dr Pauleen Lane]

17 Q17 [Philip Matthews]; Q40 [Bruce McKirdy & Stephen Tromans QC]; Q99 [Richard Harrington MP]

18 Q100 [Stephen Speed]

Published: 31 July 2018