England and Wales: experience of radioactive waste (RAW) management and contaminated site clean-up

D. JACKS ON, A. BAKER, R. GEORGE and S. MOB BS, Eden Nuclear and Environment Ltd, UK

DOI: 10.1533/9780857097446.2.509

Abstract: The United Kingdom has a long history of nuclear development. Waste management principles and strategies have evolved over this period, together with technical developments allowing modified waste management regimes. High and intermediate level wastes reflect both current arisings and legacy wastes, with disposal and storage options being explored and implemented. In recent years, low level waste strategy has been further clarified to expand options available for safe and cost-effective disposal. Challenges with respect to contaminated land and delicensing of decommissioning sites are recognised.

Devolution of waste management responsibilities within the UK is leading to some divergence in national policies, particularly with respect to higher activity wastes.

Key words: Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA), Magnox, advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR), reprocessing, waste policy.

16.1 Introduction

The United Kingdom has a long history of nuclear development, which, for convenience, can be traced from the post-war weapons programme and, later, the civil use of nuclear power. Research and production sites in England at Harwell (Oxfordshire), Sellafield (Cumbria), Springfields (Lan­cashire) and Capenhurst (Cheshire) were established in the 1940s and, in Scotland, the Dounreay site (Caithness) followed in 1954, initially to develop the fast breeder reactor.

The UK’s first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1956 and, at its peak in 1997, 26% of the nation’s electricity was generated from nuclear power. Nuclear reprocessing facilities were also built to deal with the increasing demand from both military and civil programmes. Since then a number of stations have been closed, and others are scheduled to follow over the next decade. Of the currently operating stations, lifetime exten­sions may be granted for some sites, allowing for continued generation until


16.1 Map of all major nuclear installations in England and Wales. Coastline map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data by permission of the Ordnance Survey © Crown copyright 1999.

replacement generating sources become available. Locations of all major nuclear licensed sites in England and Wales are presented in Fig. 16.1.

This account of radioactive waste (RAW) management in England and Wales is oriented towards the strategic and environmental issues arising from the management of RAW from the nuclear industry. It also addresses the structure of the nuclear industry and the sources, types and classification of RAW.

Approximately one million m3 of solid RAW has been disposed of in the UK to date (NDA and DECC, 2011). Current wastes identified, plus pro­jected wastes over the next century or so, amount to around 4.7 million m3 in the UK. About 97% (4.6 million m3) of the total volume of RAW antici­pated has already been produced. Some has been processed, and is being held in stores, but most is contained within existing nuclear facilities, includ­ing reprocessing plants and nuclear reactors, and will not be processed until these are shut down and dismantled. This waste is the legacy of past and current civil and military nuclear programmes. About 3% (150,000 m3 ) of the radioactive waste total has yet to be produced. This waste is that forecast from the future planned operations of the existing nuclear power industry, from ongoing defence programmes and from the continued use of radioac­tivity for medical and industrial purposes.

Current and projected radioactive waste volumes for England and Wales are summarised in Table 16.1 (NDA and DECC, 2011).

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