Issue

Radioactive substances (nuclear and non-nuclear) are used in a variety of ways that benefit people, for example in nuclear power generation, hospitals, pharmaceuticals and research. However, the hazards of using radioactive substances must be properly controlled to prevent harm to people and the environment.

Actions

Decisions we make now on the use, storage and disposal of radioactive substances will have an impact far into the future. We take this into account in our policy planning, as well as the need to safeguard the health of current and future populations.

We control the hazards of using radioactive substances by:

  • providing policy for radioactive waste so that it can be safely and securely disposed of
  • providing, monitoring and reviewing laws and regulations that allow regulatory bodies to regulate the storage, use and transport of radioactive substances
  • making justification decisions on applications to use ionising radiation
  • managing spent fuel, reprocessing and nuclear materials
  • providing a system to identify and remediate (restore to a state suitable for safe use) radioactive contaminated land

Background

Historically the properties of radioactive substances have been used to perform a variety of useful tasks. The nuclear industry has commercially provided low-carbon, affordable and dependable power as part of the UK’s energy mix since the 1950s and was the first country in the world to do so. The non-nuclear industry includes a range of different organisations that perform vital functions for society, including hospitals, the pharmaceutical sector and research and education establishments.

The hazards of the nuclear and non-nuclear industries have to be properly controlled. Governments do this by ensuring the industries comply with relevant legislation and high standards. In the UK these high standards are enforced by a number of non-departmental public bodies and regulators, and implemented through international agreements and the use of agreed industry processes.

The UK has a range of laws and regulations to make sure the UK meets its obligations under the Euratom Treaty and other international obligations and standards.

As a member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UK also observes internationally agreed protocols on nuclear safeguards and safety standards.

Bills and legislation

Radioactive substances, including non-nuclear waste, must be handled in accordance with the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (RSA93). In April 2010 RSA93 was incorporated into schedule 23 of Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

In September 2011 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published Environmental permitting guidance on radioactive substances regulation for the regulator (the Environment Agency) and organisations that use radioactive substances.

In April 2012 the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) published statutory guidance explaining how we deal with land contaminated by radioactive substances.

We consider applications for the use of radioactive substances under the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004.

Managing our radioactive waste on a long-term basis

2014 White Paper: Implementing Geological Disposal

The government remains firmly committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher activity radioactive waste. We favour a site selection process for a geological disposal facility (GDF) based on working in partnership with interested local communities. In preparing the White Paper – Implementing Geological Disposal – we carefully considered responses to a consultation on the site selection process, which closed in December 2013.

Who we’re working with

DECC is the lead department for managing the use of radioactive and nuclear substances and for disposal of radioactive waste. DECC works closely with Defra , which is the lead department for environmental protection and sustainable development.

The Environment Agency regulates, in England, the use of radioactive substances and disposal of radioactive waste and provides us with support and advice on wider environmental matters such as flood risk.

We sponsor the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which was created through the Energy Act 2004 to manage the decommissioning and clean-up of the civil public sector nuclear sites. It’s responsible to Scottish ministers for some of its work in Scotland.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), currently an agency of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), regulates aspects of the UK’s nuclear industry and provides us with advice and support on developing policy for implementing radioactive substance safeguards.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) provides us with technical advice on strategy for managing nuclear waste.

NuLeAF, the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum, represents local government on nuclear legacy management and takes an active part in consultations and debate on radioactive waste issues.