I am today publishing a White Paper on implementing geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste.
The White Paper – Implementing Geological Disposal - follows a public consultation that my department carried out during 2013 on potential amendments to the existing siting process established in 2008 for a geological disposal facility (GDF) and reflects key messages from that consultation, as well as lessons learned during the previous siting process.
The UK Government remains committed to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher activity radioactive waste. We already have a legacy of waste from decades of enjoying the benefits of low-carbon electricity from nuclear power. We must manage this material responsibly and, in doing so, we can also support the development of new, clean, low-carbon nuclear electricity generation in the UK by ensuring there is a safe, modern facility for permanent disposal of waste. Alongside renewables and clean oil and gas, nuclear energy will help us build a home-grown, low-carbon energy mix that will ensure energy security for the UK.
The UK Government also continues to favour an approach to identifying potential sites for a GDF that involves working with communities who are willing to participate in the siting process.
Construction and operation of a GDF will be a multi-billion pound infrastructure initiative, which will provide skilled employment for hundreds of people over many decades. Hosting a GDF is likely to bring significant economic benefits to a community. It will contribute greatly to the local economy and wider socio-economic framework. There are likely to be further infrastructure investments and positive impacts on local service industries associated with the development. In addition, Government has also committed in the White Paper to provide additional investment to the community that hosts a GDF.
The White Paper outlines an approach based on working with interested communities, beginning with two years of actions overseen by Government and intended to address issues that the public and stakeholders have told us are important to them.
These actions include: bringing GDF development in England within the definition of a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’ in the Planning Act 2008, including the production of a National Policy Statement and accompanying Appraisal of Sustainability; a national geological screening exercise, which will consider what level of information is already available about geology across the country and how this could be usefully related to the safety case for a GDF to help the developer engage openly with interested communities on their prospects for development; and further engagement to develop the detail of community representation mechanisms in the siting process, including a test of public support prior to final decisions on facility siting.
All of this is intended to happen before formal discussions between interested communities and the developer begin, so that any community wanting to engage with the process can do so with more information and greater clarity about the nature of a development.
With regard to new nuclear power, UK Government policy is that, before development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, I will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste they will produce. Government has considered these conclusions in the production of this White Paper and continues to be satisfied that they apply.
The White Paper is issued jointly by the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The Welsh Government is currently considering a wider review of its higher activity radioactive waste management policy. The Scottish Government has a separate higher activity radioactive policy.
Today I am also publishing the latest annual report on the geological disposal programme, covering April 2013 to March 2014. This will be laid in the libraries of the House.