Sellafield: nuclear regulation

How the Environment Agency regulates discharges and radioactive waste disposals from Sellafield through environmental permitting.

Latest news - new public consultation on changes to Sellafield’s permits

Sellafield nuclear site is one of the most complex and hazardous industrial sites in Europe. Activities carried out at the site include:

  • retrieving waste from old (legacy) facilities
  • cleaning up (decommissioning) redundant buildings
  • managing spent fuel, including Magnox and oxide fuel reprocessing
  • safely managing and storing nuclear materials and radioactive waste

The site is operated by Sellafield Ltd.

The Environment Agency regulates Sellafield Ltd with the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

The two nuclear regulators provide reports to the West Cumbria Sites Stakeholder Group. This is an independent body whose role is to provide public scrutiny of the nuclear industry in West Cumbria.

Find out more about how the Environment Agency regulates nuclear sites.

Regulating through environmental permits

Nuclear sites must have an environmental permit to operate. Through the environmental permitting process, the Environment Agency regulates Sellafield’s radioactive discharges to air and water, and solid radioactive waste disposals.

Environmental permits contain strict conditions (rules) an operator must follow. These conditions are designed to make sure that the operator’s activities do not harm people or the environment.

The Environment Agency sets stringent discharge limits in Sellafield Ltd’s environmental permit and makes sure the company minimises discharges and their impacts on people and the environment.

You can ask to see a copy of Sellafield Ltd’s current environmental permits in the public register.

Changes to Sellafield permits

The Environment Agency has been working with Sellafield Ltd to review two of its environmental permits to prepare for the end of fuel reprocessing at Sellafield. The permits are a radioactive substances activities (RSA) permit and an installation permit. They allow the site to:

  • operate facilities
  • discharge liquid and gas to the environment
  • dispose of solid radioactive waste

Radioactive fuel reprocessing will end at the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) in November 2018 and at Magnox in 2020.

The focus of the Sellafield site will change from reprocessing spent fuel to decommissioning. As a result discharges into the environment will reduce and Sellafield Ltd will need a new permit to reflect the lower discharge levels.

Sellafield Ltd will submit applications to change their permits. The proposed timescales for the application reviews and public consultations are as follows.

RSA permit review

  • proposed application submission date – October 2018
  • public consultation on the application (8 weeks) – 26 October - 21 December 2018
  • public consultation on the draft decision (8 weeks) – spring or summer 2019
  • permit issued – autumn 2019

Find out more about the public consultation for the RSA permit review on Citizen Space.

Installations permit review

  • proposed application submission date – summer 2019
  • public consultation on the application (8 weeks) – summer or autumn
  • public consultation on the draft decision (8 weeks) – autumn or winter 2019
  • permit issued – spring 2020

Monitoring radiation from Sellafield

An environmental permit requires an operator to monitor radiation levels from their discharges and any effects on the environment.

Sellafield Ltd carry out environmental monitoring around the Sellafield site. The Environment Agency assesses the results and suitability of Sellafield Ltd’s programme, including the company’s monitoring for radioactive objects on west Cumbria beaches.

Find out more about:

The Environment Agency has also developed a Sellafield radioactive objects intervention plan with other organisations involved in protecting the public from radioactive objects. This plan explains how the different organisations will work together to:

  • protect the public and environment from any harm caused by radioactive objects on west Cumbria beaches
  • respond to a discovery of radioactive objects near the Sellafield site – a single find or an overall change in the find rate, activity or trends

Monitoring the environment for radioactivity around nuclear sites is also done independently by the Environment Agency and other regulators. Find out more about monitoring radioactivity in the environment.


Nuclear Regulation Group (north)

Telephone: 020 3025 5873


Published 26 October 2018