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05 July 2019

832: Latest National Policy Statement nears completion

Today’s entry reports on the most recent National Policy Statement to be laid before Parliament for designation.

The euphemistically-titled National Policy Statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure was laid before Parliament on 4 July. This is the final version of the document that will control how test boreholes and one or more eventual sites for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste will be planned, assessed and decided. The ENDS Report is a little less circumspect: ‘BEIS publishes nuclear waste dump planning framework’ is its headline.

The disposal of nuclear waste was not a project type in the original Planning Act 2008, but it was added as a new section 30A in 2015. That gives some indication of the glacial speed at which this type of infrastructure is progressing; I imagine it rarely gets to the top of the Secretary of State’s in-tray.

It may be deeply boring (geddit?) but there is a certain urgency in doing something about nuclear waste. Waste produced by nuclear power stations is mostly still stored at each power station because there is nowhere else for it to go, but perhaps there will be soon.

What does the NPS say? There are a couple of introductory chapters on policy and then chapter 3 is on need. It says there is an ‘ethical need’ for this infrastructure, the first NPS to make such a claim. Having benefited from nuclear power, we have a responsibility to dispose of the consequential waste. There is also a directive that more or less requires this process to be developed, the Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Directive.

The chapter concludes by saying that ‘The Secretary of State will assess applications for development consent for geological disposal infrastructure covered by this NPS on the basis that need has been demonstrated.’

Chapter 4 covers assessment principles, such as that for any requirements, ‘The Examining Authority should only recommend, and the Secretary of State should only impose, requirements54 in relation to development consent that are: necessary, relevant to planning, relevant to the development to be consented, enforceable, precise and reasonable in all other respects.’

Finally, chapter 5 covers ‘impacts’. This reads like a draft environmental statement setting out how each type of impact, from air quality to water, should be assessed by the applicant, considered by the Secretary of State when making a decision, and mitigated.

Reminiscent of the US 1970s slogan ‘Don’t throw it away, there is no “away”‘, the nuclear waste may be ‘disposed of’ but it is still somewhere. I am interested in how it is recorded so that it doesn’t get forgotten about and accidentally dug up, even after a Planet of the Apes-style societal breakdown. That doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the NPS but is surely part of the ethical duty of the disposing generation.

In parallel to the development of the NPS, the government company Radioactive Waste Management or RWM has been developing a process for choosing one or more sites, through a series of financial incentives for communities prepared to go along with the process, together with geological considerations about suitability. This has also got some way to go, so don’t expect a Development Consent Order application any time soon.

Once ‘designated’ in a month or so, this will become the twelfth NPS to be designated since 2008, joining six other energy NPSs, three transport NPSs, a waste water one and a hazardous waste one (which does not include nuclear waste even though it sounds as if it might).

There is one more first edition NPS in the works, for water infrastructure, as well as a second edition of the nuclear power NPS to cover the period 2025-2035.

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