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Moving towards a more integrated approach for waste management

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In the video below, I explain the different wastes we deal with in our mission to decommission UK nuclear legacy sites. I also outline the process for dealing with these wastes.

Please watch the video or read the transcript below to understand more about the NDA’s role in this area.

The consultation on the draft of our revised strategy is open until 15 February 2016, and we are keen that anyone interested in waste management issues takes a look at the Integrated Waste Management section and shares their thoughts with us.

While we are interested in all views, we have posed 2 questions as part of the consultation:

  • Do you agree that the proposed development of a single radioactive waste strategy is appropriate and what issues do you think we should address?
  • What are your views on the waste management principles described in this strategy?

My name is James McKinney. I’m the Head of Integrated Waste Management for the NDA.


Radioactive wastes are those materials that are deemed not to have any further use.


They cover a very broad range of materials.


In terms of the nuclear industry, we have relatively large volumes of concrete, steels, graphite and also included in the inventory are plastics oils etc.


In the UK we have 3 main types of radioactive waste:


There’s low level waste, which is the lowest end of radioactivity and within the low level waste category we also have very low level waste as well.


Above a certain threshold of radioactivity, is the waste we have to treat as intermediate level waste.


And there is a final category which is high level waste, and the only place in the UK that manages high level waste is the Sellafield Site.


Waste management is a really important part of NDA’s strategy. It’s essential in delivering our mission in terms of site decommissioning and remediation.


Without robust waste management routes in place, we cannot deliver our mission.


NDA’s role in terms of waste management is really to deliver strategic options to provide a leadership role in developing strategic options that improve and optimise the waste management process across our estate.


The waste hierarchy is an important tool for the NDA and the broader industry as well.


It sets down the priority of principles to help us deal effectively with our waste.


The first principle is waste prevention, and here is to consider the possibility of avoiding waste in the first place.


If wastes are unavoidable, then how do you minimise those wastes? What technologies are available that allows us to minimise waste?


And then it’s about asking the question: “Could you extract value from the waste itself?” Even though it’s been deemed “waste”, there is often valuable material in there, such as metals for example. Could you look to reuse those materials? Could we treat them in such a way we could recycle it?


And the last stage within the waste hierarchy is “disposal”.


NDA and others will talk about eventual disposal, recognising there’s a series of steps in place before you have to dispose of those materials.


Waste management: it’s not simply about getting hold of some waste and finding the nearest disposal facility, it involves a number of steps.


The steps include: waste retrievals; treatment; storage, if applicable; and then disposal.


Waste retrievals is a key area because by retrieving the waste, you are then allowing the next step in the waste management lifecycle to proceed.


So waste retrievals is an ongoing programme of activity across the whole of the NDA estate.


Examples are on Sellafield site where we’re making progress and retrieving radioactive sludges from our legacy facilities. That process has just begun.


Other areas are on our Magnox sites, where we are retrieving solid waste from bunkers on those sites, for example, there’s Hunterston.


Waste treatment and supporting the waste hierarchy is a really important area for us where there is clear evidence of how this is making a difference.


For example, at Berkeley, we had some very large boilers that because of treatment we were able to recycle the majority of that material back into the industry, where only a fraction of that total material ended up in our low level waste repository.

Waste storage in support of the higher activity waste strategy is really important.


In the UK we have no available disposal route for higher activity waste, so storage needs to cover a period of decades. And in support of that, the NDA has delivered industry guidance, which provides detailed information and also principles of how best to support the storage strategy.


Currently, our strategies cover a number of areas: higher activity waste strategy; solid low level waste strategy; non-radioactive waste strategy and discharges as well.


Moving forward, our aim is to have a more integrated approach, as in the title of our theme area, integrated waste management, and rather than having separate, individual strategies in the radioactive waste area, is to have single radioactive waste strategy, that clearly investigates and looks at those boundary areas between, for example, intermediate level waste and low level waste.


Online engagement via web chat

If you have questions or comments, you can log in to a web chat. We have scheduled 2 sessions where our specialists will be online to answer any queries you might have:

11:30 Friday 29 January (1 hour)

16:00 Monday 8 February (1 hour)

Feel free to submit questions beforehand via and we will provide answers during the live web chats.

Transcripts will be available after each session.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Rupert posted on

    I remember Bill Gates talked about a waste disposal method where you can put all the uranium that is unusable by nuclear reactors in a huge 10 stadium sized depository where it will be stored until we find out a way to use this uranium to produce energy.