Wasting no time in dealing with waste

HSE Nuclear Directorate’s thorough assessment of designs for new nuclear reactors in the UK includes looking at how the operators will deal with the radioactive waste they produce.

Our Generic Design Assessment (GDA) programme includes a team of inspectors who look at the EDF/AREVA EPR and Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

Inspector Chris Fisher, who has 20 years’ experience in the management of waste produced by the nuclear industry, leads on the assessment of proposals for the UK EPR. This is done in close collaboration with colleagues from the Environment Agency, which is jointly assessing the reactor designs.

“Radioactive waste and decommissioning is an area of great interest to the public,” said Chris. “My job involves having a holistic approach. The industry would normally build the reactor and deal with the waste afterwards, but through the GDA programme we are concentrating on the waste issues and decommissioning before the reactor is built.

“The new reactors that have been put forward are designed to be more efficient. Whilst the waste will be similar to the waste produced now, the spent fuel will be hotter, and therefore needs to be stored for a longer period (in order for it to cool sufficiently), before being disposed of.  So we need to consider things such as where and how it will be stored and, ultimately, how it will be transported to a disposal facility.

“My job is to look at whether the requesting parties (RPs) have identified all of the wastes that their reactor will produce. Do they have suitable plans for conditioning of the wastes? Have they identified any safety issues with their plans for short term storage? Have they identified any safety issues with their plans for long term storage? Have they shown that they can dispose of the waste? Have they shown that the plant can be safely decommissioned? The RPs provide evidence that these aspects have been addressed in their proposals.”

Chris said: “The RPs are internationally based, so whilst we have a number of meetings at our offices in Bootle, we also have to travel to their offices in Europe and even the USA. On these visits, I have been shown how facilities, equivalent to those in the proposals, are being operated. I have had telephone conferences with STUK (Finnish regulators) and face-to-face meetings with the NRC (USA regulators) about their assessment of these reactors. It has been useful to see what they do and how we can use their processes for the potential new reactors.”

“My job is busy and very challenging. We are all aiming for the same end result, working towards June 2011 when HSE/EA produces the final report which will set out its findings and final conclusions of the GDA assessment.”

The next quarterly GDA report is due out soon. Sign up to the new build e-Bulletin to get your copy.

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