Opinion: Nuclear Waste Management and New Build


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Keywords: nuclear power, Generic Design Assessment, CO2 emissions, radiological protection, thermal oxide reprocessing, Radioactive Substances Act, Ionising Radiations Regulations, decommissioning and remediation of nuclear sites


The history of designing, constructing and commissioning new nuclear power stations in the UK is not, it must be admitted, a particularly happy one. It has been described as an 'often depressing story'.1 At the start of the 21st century, it did not appear that the civil nuclear industry had much of a future in the UK. However, the Governments concerns as to the effects of man-made global warming and its approach to setting targets for deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions have brought nuclear energy very firmly back onto the political agenda. In consequence, the political climate in the UK has moved markedly in favour of significant expansion of nuclear generating capacity. This enthusiasm for nuclear technology, almost certainly unparalleled since the heady days of the 1950s, has manifested itself in various ways in practical and commercial terms. There has been strong commercial interest in new nuclear projects. There is also, of course, strong opposition on the part of some environmental NGOs and it seems inevi-table that legal challenges will occur to various aspects of the regulatory process. Such challenges are likely to include a strong focus on the waste management implications of a nuclear programme, which is, probably correctly, seen as the potential Achilles heel in the process.
The question of waste from new nuclear plants falls to be considered in a number of areas: (a) the licensing of new plant, in particular the issue of Generic Design Assessment, which it is hoped will expedite the process of safety assessment and licensing; (b) the fact that the construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations constitutes  a  'practice' which  requires justification  in  radiological protection terms; (c) the arrangements which will have to be in place from the stan to fund the decommissioning and waste management programmes for these new facilities; and (d) the development consent procedures themselves for the construction of new power stations. So far as generally smoothing the way forward is concerned, the Government is now quite open about its goal of becoming 'the worlds number one location for new nuclear investment', in the words of the Business Secretary, John Hutton, in June 2008, and as can be seen from its creation of a new' Office of Nuclear Development and the Nuclear Development Forum. How far the waste issue will prove to be an obstacle to those ambitions remains to be seen.

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