The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has released a statement on a set of draft recommendations for nuclear waste disposal delivered by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM).

The NDA agrees with CoRWM’s preference for geological disposal of waste, assuming that while the precise details are currently uncertain, repository vaults would be left open through an operational phase lasting for several decades and that waste packages would remain available for examination and potentially for retrieval during this period. “However,” says the statement, “the actual approach to be used will depend on future technical and safety case developments, taking account of site-specific issues.” Implementation of a geological disposal solution may take a number of decades, says the NDA, but a ‘repository availability’ date for Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) of 2040 is used in the NDA baseline plans. If an earlier date could be achieved this would provide significant cost and programme benefits, particularly in the case of decommissioning reactor sites, says the Authority. However, significant delay would seriously impact on the NDA’s strategic objectives for site cleanup, and necessitate additional storage measures.

The NDA believes that the default route for Reactor Decommissioning Wastes (RDW) should be geological disposal, although there may be scope for alternative handling of some RDW streams, for example, reactor steel with short half life activity could be held under secure institutional arrangements (such as a shallow LLW vault) until alternative treatments become available, perhaps allowing recycling or re-use. Similarly, there may be alternative treatments for reactor graphite rather than consigning the large quantities involved to geological disposal, says the NDA.

In addition, further R&D into repository performance and safety case production will be essential if geological disposal is endorsed by the government. The NDA also believes that R&D into alternative geological solutions should be encouraged in order to keep options open. “In conclusion we believe that implementation of the above flexible approach may lead to significant cost and programme benefits,” the statement says.

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