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Radioactive waste management is ramping up in the UK with Visit to Andra in France by Coal Mine Boss

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

The following article appeared on the French Government's ANDRA site - we have translated it below and interestingly our old friend Mark Kirkbride the Coal Mine Boss - also Nuclear Dump guru with the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management is centre stage

original article in French can be read here

English Translation below.....

Friday, July 21, 2023

Radioactive waste management is ramping up in the UK

A pioneer in the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity, the United Kingdom is also one of the precursors in the storage of radioactive waste on the surface. The country is now conducting a broad reflection on the geological disposal of its most radioactive waste.

File photo of the Sellafield nuclear site. (Land note: this doesn't look like Sellafield - any suggestions?? UPDATE we have been reliably informed the image used by ANDRA is actually Sizewell in the South NOT Sellafield in the North nearly 400 miles away. Obviously ANDRA's attention to detail is off by a very very long way).

Did you know ? The world's first nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1956 at the Sellafield site in north-west England. More than sixty years later, the United Kingdom has nine nuclear reactors in operation, producing around 15% of UK electricity.

A diversified production of radioactive waste

While two new EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) type reactors are under construction on the site of the Hinkley Point power plant, the British government announced in 2022 the significant expansion of nuclear energy in its energy mix by to 2050, with an ambition to supply around 25% of the country's electricity.

As is the case today in France, the United Kingdom reprocessed spent fuel from Magnox(1) type nuclear reactors in a dedicated plant on the Sellafield site, from 1964 to 2022. After the Second World War , the country has also built various research and defense related nuclear facilities. Throughout the country, 17 sites are the main source of radioactive waste.

(1) Magnox: type of nuclear reactor using metallic (non-enriched) uranium moderated with graphite and cooled with carbon dioxide. All reactors of this type are now shut down in the UK.

What management for radioactive waste?

According to British legislation, radioactive waste is divided into three categories: high level waste (HLW), intermediate level waste (ILW) and low level waste (LLW)(2).

Faced with the increase in the volumes of radioactive waste, the British government reinforced its means following the Energy Act of 2004 by creating the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a public body responsible for supervising and managing the dismantling and cleaning up the country's nuclear facilities. A new division, called Nuclear Waste Services (NWS), counterpart of Andra, has been dedicated since 2022 to the management of all radioactive waste.

(2) Very low level radioactive waste (VLLW) is a sub-category of low level radioactive waste. They can be stored under certain conditions in conventional waste storage facilities.

Towards geological disposal for the most radioactive waste

Intermediate and high level waste is currently stored at Sellafield and other sites, pending a final disposal solution.

The beginnings of this thinking date back to 2001, when the government launched the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely program. Following a public consultation, an independent committee, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), was set up. His role ? Recommend options for the long-term management of the most radioactive waste. After three years of deliberation, he recommended geological disposal (Geological Disposal Facility, or GDF).

Visit of CoRWM members to the Meuse/Haute-Marne Center on June 20, 2023.

After the failure of an initial site selection process carried out between 2008 and 2013, in 2018 the government launched a new research policy based on both the suitability of the location and the consent of local communities. (LAND note: our old friend Mark Kirkbride of West Cumbria Mining is 2nd from right)

Four of them are involved in this selection process by forming local partnerships (community partnerships), in connection with NWS: Allerdale, Mid Copeland and South Copeland, in the county of Cumbria, in the North West of England ; Theddlethorpe, in the county of Lincolnshire, in the east of England. These community partnerships make it possible to initiate local discussions and an investigation into the establishment of a geological repository on the premises. Through the studies carried out on the Theddlethorpe site, the United Kingdom is particularly interested in the favorable properties of clay for the containment of the most radioactive waste, like France with the Cigéo project (see box ).

By 2025-2026, NWS should choose two communities with which to continue its site research. The selection process could take a total of fifteen to twenty years. It would be followed by about ten years of construction work on the storage infrastructure to enable commissioning in the 2050s at the earliest.

Surface storage already in operation

Since 1959, the UK has had a surface storage facility for its low-level radioactive waste, located near the village of Drigg in Cumbria, a few miles from the Sellafield nuclear site. First arranged in sections, the waste packages are now stored on a concrete platform. The repository is scheduled to close around 2130.

A storage facility has also been in operation since 2015 on the Scottish site of Dounreay, a former nuclear research centre. It receives the low-level radioactive waste produced by the dismantling of the site's facilities.

To go deeper

Each local partnership in connection with the search for a geological storage site in the United Kingdom has a dedicated website for information and exchange (in English):

Cooperation intensifies between Andra and the British

Sharing and exchanging strategic, scientific, technical and operational knowledge in a clear and secure framework: this is the objective of the cooperation agreement signed in 2019 between Andra and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for a five-year term. The two public bodies gave new impetus to this partnership at the end of 2022.

Last October, a delegation from the NDA and its Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) division went to the Center de Meuse/Haute-Marne (CMHM) for a steering committee which made it possible to establish a roadmap cooperation for years to come. On the program, various themes such as R&D, the design processes of a geological repository, but also the monitoring of the environment around the disposal centers, safety and communication. Since this meeting, more than fifteen meetings between experts from Andra and the NDA have taken place, as well as cross-visits to the respective facilities of the two organizations. In April 2023, a team from Andra notably traveled to the United Kingdom to present its feedback on communication and dialogue on radioactive waste management.

Beyond this partnership, a delegation from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the British nuclear safety authority, visited the CMHM facilities in 2022 to discover the Underground Laboratory and learn more about the Cigéo project. . The symbol of a Franco-British relationship on the management of radioactive waste that is established over time.

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