David Miliband, the UK secretary of the environment, has announced plans for deep geological disposal for the UK’s highly radioactive nuclear waste with a continuing need for interim storage until long-term facilities are developed.

Closely following the July recommendations from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) planning and development of geological disposal will see the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) manage the process.

Miliband said: “A successor [to CoRWM] independent advisory committee will be appointed to give advice on the plans for long term management of radioactive waste.” He added: “Disposal facilities will only be built in a geologically suitable area, and we will consider how geological and scientific considerations will be meshed with other societal considerations.”

Waste disposal company Nirex will be folded into the NDA before being wound up, Miliband said, a move which provoked ire from the Prospect trade union. The union wrote to Miliband to express “significant concerns” and inviting discussion “as we fail to see how the plan could work and it seems previous mistakes are likely to be repeated.”

NDA chief executive, Dr Ian Roxburgh, said: “We welcome this decision as it heralds a new era for nuclear waste management in the UK, setting out a clear path towards deep geological disposal.” NDA will now start planning a detailed programme to take the geological disposal concept forward.

British Energy welcomed the announcement with chief executive Bill Coley saying:

“We welcome the clarity that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will bring to dealing with radioactive waste. They together with regulators and the independent advisory committee will ensure that progress is made on this critical issue.”