Successful land quality management (LQM) involves the prevention of land and groundwater contamination, and the remediation (including control and monitoring) of radioactive and non-radioactive contamination on the surface of the ground, in the ground and in groundwater. LQM includes management activities that need to occur irrespective of whether or not any contamination exists.
The overall objective of LQM is to take all reasonably practicable measures to prevent contamination and to ensure existing contamination is managed to mitigate safety and environmental risks. This includes ensuring that where contamination exists, proportionate remediation is undertaken to avoid, so far as is reasonably practicable, risks to human health, safety and the environment for present and future generations.
For nuclear sites in Great Britain licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965, ONR enforces compliance with site licence conditions intended to ensure adequate arrangements for the storage of nuclear matter and the accumulation of radioactive waste, and to prevent the leakage and escape of radioactive material and radioactive waste (including unintended releases to land or groundwater). In addition, ONR has other regulatory responsibilities in relation to land quality management activities on nuclear sites including those for health and safety, radiological protection and prevention of major accidents. ONR's responsibilities complement those of the three environment agencies in Great Britain (the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Natural Resources Wales) who regulate the disposal of radioactive waste on and from nuclear licensed sites, certain contaminated land sites, and discharges to surface waters and groundwater.
ONR works closely with the environment agencies on LQM matters at nuclear licensed sites with the aim of achieving effective, consistent and comprehensive regulation while avoiding conflicting requirements being placed on licensees. Together, we have set up a joint working group to develop and maintain oversight of LQM matters, to discuss, share and prioritise our activities, and to propose joint regulatory approaches and methods of working.
In June 2014, ONR and the three environment agencies jointly published our 'Regulatory Expectations for Successful Land Quality Management at Nuclear Licensed Sites', providing an overview of our expectations of nuclear site licensees and operators with respect to achieving the overall LQM objective. Essentially, we expect licensees to:
These high-level expectations have been produced to promote relevant good practice, but do not attempt to describe the expectations of other organisations such as local authorities that may also have a statutory interest in this area. Although our expectations do not specify regulatory requirements and are not legally binding, meeting them will provide licensees with a strong foundation for successful land quality management taking due account of risks to health, safety and the environment.
ONR and the three environment agencies (EA, SEPA and NRW) have published a joint statement of common understanding which sets out the harmonised regulatory approach taken for the regulation of the disposal of radioactive waste on nuclear sites by deposit or burial, to ensure the safety of the public, workers and the environment. The current version, published in February 2021, replaces an earlier version published in November 2016.
The approach ensures that any proposals for such disposals will need to demonstrate that human health and the environment will be protected. The statement explains the interface between the authorisation of radioactive waste disposals by the environment agencies, and the regulation of the safety of disposal activities by ONR. The document also clarifies the terminology used in this context for “radioactive waste”, “disposal” and “storage” and sets out regulatory expectations for the timing of applications and disposal activities.