Saffron Price-Finnerty, Interim Manager for the Nuclear Regulation Group North, explains how our nuclear regulators and assessors have been continuing their work regulating the nuclear industry in Cumbria.
The coronavirus pandemic has been affecting every aspect of our lives since January 2020. At the Environment Agency we have continued our work to create better places for people and wildlife, and support sustainable development during this challenging period.
Cumbria is home to several nationally significant nuclear facilities. The Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) is a purpose-built facility which receives much of the UK’s lower-hazard radioactive waste for disposal. Further up the coast is Sellafield which has recently entered a new phase of its lifecycle with decommissioning and environmental remediation now the dominant activities, as well as the ongoing safe storage of radioactive waste. Cumbria is also being explored as a potential site for new nuclear facilities.
Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR)
LLWR is an engineered landfill site with a series of concrete lined vaults for waste containers and historic trench disposals of radioactive waste from the 1940s. An important focus of our regulation is making sure LLWR is able to cap the facility to prevent damage to the waste packages and minimise the release of radioactivity. LLWR’s Environmental Safety Case (ESC) demonstrates that the disposal of waste at the site is safe for the environment and the public, both now and in the future. Our last major review of LLWR’s ESC began in 2011 and ultimately led to a decision to vary LLWR’s permit in 2015. LLWR will be submitting their updated ESC in 2026 and we’ve already started advising the operator about our expectations.
We have a dedicated team of regulators who carry out inspections and monitor compliance at this vast, complex site. During the coronavirus pandemic we’ve both remotely inspected and attended site when necessary and safe to do so and we have continued to monitor radioactivity in the environment. We carried out a major review and issued a variation to Sellafield’s radioactive substances activity (RSA) permit following the end of nuclear fuel reprocessing. Looking ahead we’ll be reviewing Sellafield’s ‘Installation’ permit which covers chemical and combustion processes. Watch out for consultation on this and follow our work on our Sellafield page on GOV.UK.
Supporting Working Groups in Allerdale and Copeland
Two ‘Working Groups’ in Cumbria have entered the first stage of a national process to find a suitable site for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). Geological disposal means permanently placing radioactive waste in a specially designed facility between 200 metres and 1,000 metres underground. As regulators, we do not have a role in selecting potential sites but we will play a crucial role in regulating any future GDF. We are available to support communities and other stakeholders who are participating in the siting process. Visit our website to find out more about our role in the development and regulation of a GDF.
Regulating during the coronavirus pandemic
We recognised that business as usual was not possible for many of our regulated sites so we developed a series of COVID-19 regulatory position statements (RPS). We’ve been applying these RPS in our regulatory work at all of our nuclear sites.
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