Office for Nuclear Regulation

Joint regulatory guidance on radioactive waste management

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Report on a joint ONR-SEPA inspection of RWM’s disposability assessment process for the management of HAW in Scotland

The disposal of higher activity radioactive radioactivity waste (HAW) is a devolved issue, and policies differ across the UK. The policies of UK Government and the Welsh Government are that HAW in England and Wales should be managed in the long-term through geological disposal, coupled with safe and secure interim storage until a geological disposal facility (GDF) is available. The Scottish Government does not support geological disposal. The Scottish HAW policy, published in 2011, states that the long-term management of HAW should be in near-surface facilities, as near to the site where the waste is produced as possible.

Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM), a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), has been established to deliver a GDF and provide waste management solutions. As part of on-going work on nuclear sites to reduce hazards and enable decommissioning and clean-up of redundant facilities, HAW is being conditioned and packaged and placed in interim storage. To provide confidence that these HAW packages will be suitable for disposal in the GDF when it is available, RWM carries out formal assessments of submissions from HAW producers for specific HAW conditioning proposals, as part of its disposability assessment process.

The RWM disposability assessment process is primarily for HAW packages to be disposed of in the GDF. However, the regulators (ONR and SEPA) and Scottish Government, have previously concluded, in 2007 and then re-affirmed in 2010, that HAW packages conditioned in anticipation of geological disposal are also suitable for long-term management in near-surface, near-site facilities, as required by government policy in Scotland. This position is reflected in the regulators’ joint guidance on the management of higher activity radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites. As such, Scottish HAW producers continue to use the RWM disposability assessment process to establish appropriate approaches for conditioning and packaging their HAW.

A joint ONR-SEPA project was carried out to review whether the regulators’ position was still valid i.e. that the RWM process was still appropriate for the management of Scottish HAW in line with Scottish HAW policy. The project involved inspections of RWM and two nuclear licensed sites in Scotland.

This report presents the findings and conclusions from that project. In summary, the project concluded that RWM’s disposability assessment process remains suitable for the long-term management of HAW in Scotland.

Inspection of RWM’s disposability assessment process for the management of HAW in Scotland - September 2017

*On 31 January 2022, Nuclear Waste Services was formed which brought together Low Level Waste Repository Limited, Radioactive Waste Management Limited and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group’s Integrated Waste Management Programme.

Regulation of higher activity radioactive waste management: Changes to the administration of cost recovery.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation, Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Natural Resources Wales (the regulators) have been working together to regulate the management of higher activity radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites since the publication of the first version of the Joint Guidance in 2005. Since then we have ensured that we have co-ordinated our programmes of work and that we provide clear and consistent messages to the nuclear industry.

In April 2017, an administrative change was made to the way that the regulators recover the costs for this work. Instead of ONR billing the sites for all the regulators combined work, each individual regulatory body now recovers its own costs directly from nuclear licensed sites.

This administrative change does not affect the way we coordinate our work on higher activity radioactive waste management. The regulators continue to work together to ensure that they provide effective, consistent regulation in a coordinated and timely manner.

The Position Statement on Regulatory Arrangements for the Management of Higher Activity Waste on Nuclear Licensed Sites has been updated to reflect these changes to arrangements. Changes to the Joint Guidance documents have not been made at this time, as the new arrangements do not impact the guidance provided by the documents. Changes will be made in line with a scheduled update in future.

Revised documents published March 2015

This guidance has been reviewed in conjunction with the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Natural Resources Wales and has taken into account comments received since the previous updates in 2011.

Basic principles of radioactive waste management

This is an introductory document providing background information for those who may not be familiar with the subject of radioactive waste management on nuclear licensed sites. This document updates and replaces "Fundamentals of the management of radioactive waste" (originally published in 2007).

Joint Guidance on the management of higher activity radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites

This guidance has been updated and replaces the guidance previously published in 2011, which consisted of:

The revised guidance brings all these documents together in one document.

Basic principles of radioactive waste management

The management of higher activity radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites


Following a consultation exercise in 2002 the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Scottish Executive and the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) accepted a proposal from HSE, the Environment Agency (EA) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), (collectively referred to as the regulators), aimed at improving the regulatory arrangements for conditioning Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) on nuclear licensed sites. The proposed arrangements aimed to bring the consideration of waste conditioning within the regulators' processes and were to be implemented through joint regulatory working arrangements. The regulators issued a Position Statement in 2003, which explained the improved regulatory arrangements and was informed by the outcomes from a twelve month review of the regulators' proposal with key stakeholders. (The Position Statement details the improvements to the regulatory process and the reasoning behind these changes, and should be consulted if further information on this topic is required).

In the Position Statement, the regulators set out a joint commitment to produce guidance explaining the improved regulatory process for evaluating proposals from licensees to condition ILW on nuclear licensed sites. The original joint guidance was issued in 2005 to fulfil this commitment.

In 2006 the UK Government's response to recommendations by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) established that deep geological disposal is the preferred route for the long-term management of radioactive waste that is not suitable for near-surface disposal. It also gave the responsibility for delivering the programme for a deep geological repository to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The Scottish Government subsequently published its updated policy in 2011 that the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste should be in near surface facilities, located as near to the site where the waste is produced as possible. In 2008 the Welsh Assembly Government reserved its position on geological disposal and neither supported not opposed the policy. In 2014 the Welsh Assembly Government launched a consultation on a possible review of its policy on higher activity radioactive waste.

In April 2013, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) took over the work of the Environment Agency for the environmental regulation of higher activity radioactive waste in Wales.

In response to these developments, and requests from nuclear industry representatives for more detailed guidance, the regulators revised their original 2005 joint guidance in 2011. The joint guidance has now been updated again to ensure that it remains consistent with the UK policy and regulatory positions, and developments in international standards.

On-going and future work

We will review this guidance on a periodic basis, however comments will be welcome at any time. Any such comments should be addressed to Please reference "Joint Guidance" in the title of the message.