Above: The UK’s low-level waste repository (Photo credit: LLWR)


THE LOW LEVEL WASTE REPOSITORY Ltd (LLWR) in West Cumbria is the national repository for low-level radioactive waste in the UK.

The UK was faced with the need to expand the repository’s capacity, to accommodate all the expected waste to be generated across the UK’s nuclear estate. Based on the forecast inventory, the capacity limit was expected to be reached in 2022. Sourcing an alternative LLWR site was expected to cost more than £2bn and would therefore be a significant cost burden to the UK government. In 2008 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) decided to involve industry experts and awarded a management and operations contract to UKNWM, an international consortium comprising Amentum, Studsvik and Orano. The Amentum-led consortium took over the management & operation contract for both LLWR and the National Waste Programme. The challenge ahead of this major programme was understood.

The consortium introduced an integrated national programmatic approach. It was based on the national transuranic waste programme in the USA, which was led by Amentum, in which a holistic minimisation strategy was introduced across the industry, establishing connections and waste routes between the generators and the supply chain, incentivising re-use and alternative disposal routes where possible. Rigid and consistent focus on waste characterisation methodology was introduced alongside the firm implementation of the waste hierarchy. Engagement with government and regulators was initiated to develop national policy and the strategy required to implement the changes in waste management and behaviours.

Successful implementation of these initiatives led to:

  • A decrease in LLW waste disposed of at LLWR. In 2009 in accepted 95% of waste. By 2020 that had fallen to just 2%, with 98% treated, recycled or alternatively disposed of.
  • An extension in the operational life of LLWR by 107 years to 2129, solving the long-term capacity gap for NDA and the UK.
  • Savings of £2 billion by eliminating the need for an additional repository, and over £455 million through waste diversion instead of disposal.
  • The opening of new waste treatment and disposal opportunities and development of the supply chain.
  • The development and implementation of new reporting tools and inventory reviews to improve accuracy. As a result, significant volumes of LLW have been re-characterised as VLLW or exempt waste (reducing demand on LLWR).

What’s next for LLWR?

On 12 July 2021, the parent body organisation (UKNWM), which brought about momentous changes in the low-level radioactive waste industry over the past 13 years will depart, and LLWR will become a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The NDA says it has plans to enable LLWR to build on the firm foundations developed under the PBO’s stewardship since 2008.

The transition to subsidiary status will be followed in 2022 by LLWR joining with Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) to form a new waste division, within NDA, harnessing the wealth of experience from both organisations under one umbrella.