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General and Operational Waste

EDF Energy’s number one priority is safety and we strive for a Zero Harm Record, in order to ensure this is achieved our policy is to be compliant with the UK law at all times and to conform to UK Government policy. The nature of EDF Energy Nuclear Generation’s business in the UK and its historic government link mean that the strategy for spent fuel and radioactive waste management from EDF Energy Nuclear Generation’s power stations is owned and managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). This does not mean that EDF Energy does not have policies to continually improve and minimise the spent fuel and waste arisings but this is done through our wider safety, sustainability and environmental policies.

EDF Energy Nuclear Generation's Environmental Policy

EDF Energy Nuclear Generation has implemented an EMS across the entire scope of the business which is certified to the ISO14001 standard. 

This Environmental Management System is built around an Environmental Policy which includes a policy statement that seeks to reduce the generation of all types of waste, both conventional and radioactive, to a practicable minimum.

As a business whose prime activity is the generation of electricity from nuclear power, EDF Energy Nuclear Generation must demonstrate high standards of performance in the way we ensure safety and protect the environment. Recognising our duty to care for the environment, we have a special obligation to assure our nuclear power stations are operated in a manner that safeguards the public and the environment.

Our goal is to achieve excellent environmental performance throughout EDF Energy Nuclear Generation. We recognise that compliance with regulations is not enough on its own to achieve excellence and we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

EDF Energy Nuclear Generation will seek continuous improvement in our environmental performance and comply with all applicable legal and other requirements, by:

  1. Reducing the environmental effect of our activities, products and services to a practicable minimum by the prevention of pollution, reduction of waste and the efficient use of resources;
  2. Promoting the efficient use of energy;
  3. Continuing to develop a sense of environmental responsibility among staff and contractors;
  4. Openly reporting performance against environmental targets;
  5. Assessing the impact of our operations on biodiversity and implementing opportunities for enhancement.

To remain certified to the ISO14001 standard EDF Energy Nuclear Generation must periodically demonstrate that they have taken action to improve the performance of their environmental management system.

As far as reasonably practicable from a technical and economic standpoint the following key areas to meet our commitments are also implemented:

  • Use of reprocessed uranium in our existing fleet of power stations.
  • Reduction of generated radioactive waste and spent fuel

EDF Energy is committed to working on future improvements in spent fuel and waste management and as such a working group including EDF SA, Nuclear Generation and Nuclear New Build has been established reporting to the CEO of EDF Energy. The mission of this group is to:

  • Share experience for a better management, by both EDF SA and EDF Energy of their respective national issues,
  • Constructing a common knowledge base that will be required for defining future larger group strategies.

Two key areas of interest at present are the reprocessing and/or long term storage option for spent fuel and the potential for different waste management options including Very Low Level Waste (VLLW).  These areas are reviewed as technologies and capabilities develop. EDF Energy continues to review the options for reuse of spent fuel material in future reactor designs and is continuing to work with our nuclear partners investing in possible technologies.

EDF Energy is committed to continuous improvement in all areas of its business including its Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management.

Operational waste

The responsibility for radioactive waste management rests with each EDF Energy Nuclear Generation sites licensee, as required by the relevant licence conditions. The safe management of radioactive waste on nuclear licensed sites in the UK is regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended) who issue a Nuclear Site Licence for each nuclear site, a number of conditions of which are relevant to the management of radioactive waste.  The disposal of radioactive waste is regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) in England and in Scotland by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

In the UK, radioactive waste generated by the nuclear industry is defined by use of four categories: Very Low Level Waste (VLLW), Low Level Waste (LLW), Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) and High Level Waste (HLW). Examples of VLLW and LLW are redundant equipment and waste from maintenance activities, plastic, rubble and damaged protective clothing from nuclear power stations. It is either sent for treatment (e.g. volume reduction by supercompaction) or disposed of at the national Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR) in Cumbria, and combustible waste is sent for incineration at a facility in Hythe, Hampshire. ILW includes, for example, sludges and resins arising from the treatment of radioactive liquids, and filters from active ventilation systems (some of these waste types can be VLLW and LLW depending on their plant use). The ILW produced at our power stations is stored in safe, purpose built facilities at our stations for radioactive decay and/or pending packaging for disposal.  Where these facilities are insufficient to meet the volume of operational arisings generated we package the relevant waste for on-site interim storage to meet anticipated requirements at the future repository.  

Under historic contractual arrangements, spent fuel from our Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) is transported to Sellafield for reprocessing or storage, and spent fuel from our Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) remains on site. HLW is generated by reprocessing AGR fuel at Sellafield. HLW contains high levels of radioactivity which generates large amounts of heat. HLW exists in the form of glass contained with stainless steel canisters for long term storage at Sellafield.  HLW is not stored at any of our sites. Spent nuclear fuel is not currently classified as a waste since it can be reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium for re-use. However, spent fuel that is not reprocessed will require disposal in a similar manner to HLW.  At our Sizewell B PWR station, the spent fuel is stored on site and we are planning to build a further storage facility to allow us to continue to safely store all of the spent fuel that will be generated over Sizewell B’s life until a final decision is determined.  The current assumption provided by the government for the management of spent fuel from Sizewell B (and new build) is that it will be directly consigned from site storage to a national repository for disposal.  Disposal of spent fuel from Sizewell B will not occur for a number of decades.  

Radioactive waste is managed as part of an integrated system for the management of all waste, by implementation of an Environmental Management (EMS) system independently certified to ISO 14001.  At the end of 2011 we launched a new process called Sustainable Approach to Waste Management (SAWM), which aims to improve our performance whilst integrating with existing related company processes.  A new Fleet Strategy (FS) for waste, Fleet Implementation Plan (FIP) and Technical Baseline and underpinning Research and Development (TBuRD) documents have been issued, whose requirements will be implemented across the fleet by training and oversight activities.  SAWM, through the FIP, will develop and manage the use of performance indicators.  Fleet Strategy and waste management practices are defined at the working level by implementation of a suite of fleet Company Specifications for all waste types, which are routinely reviewed.  The relevant Company Specifications define the practices for the management of radioactive waste to ensure compliance and demonstration of best available techniques.  The principles of the waste hierarchy underpin these arrangements to ensure that waste disposal is always the final waste management option.    The waste hierarchy is used by EDF Energy Nuclear Generation to inform decisions on matters of radioactive waste management. The hierarchy goes beyond a requirement to minimise waste generation but also ensures that any wastes that do arise are managed according to the hierarchy (see Figure 3):

The most favoured option is to look for ways to avoid creating waste in the first place, however, if waste generation cannot be avoided then it is important to minimise the overall amounts that need to be managed. Items should always be used again wherever possible, for example certain items are used non-routinely, but rather than dispose of them following use, they are stored for re-use.  Once an item comes to the end of its life it is important to see if the waste can be recycled, and in the case of some metals that have become surface contaminated with radioactive substances, this is now possible (this route has now been utilised by 6 of our 8 sites in 2011). Energy recovery from the waste would be the next preferred option, although there are no facilities currently that the company has access to due to the nature of radioactive waste. The final and least desirable option is to dispose of the waste, there are however, a variety of options available depending upon the waste type and its characteristics. Many wastes can be treated prior to final disposal, for example, to reduce overall disposal volume or to immobilise radioactive substances in the waste.

Our arrangements for the management of radioactive waste ensure, as follows: 

  • Radiation doses to the workforce and the general public from radioactive waste management operations, including disposal, are within legal limits and As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).
  • We apply Best Practicable Means (BPM) and Best Available Techniques (BAT) to ensure the generation of radioactive wastes is minimised as far as is reasonably practicable.
  • We dispose of all wastes as soon as practicable where a safe and economic route has been established.
  • We maintain adequate safety cases for all waste management activities including handling, accumulation and storage of wastes on Nuclear Generation sites.
  • We develop the technology and processes required for the safe retrieval, treatment, packaging, and interim storage of wastes.
  • We co-operate with other UK waste producers on radioactive waste policy and strategy issues, and manage major stakeholder relationships effectively.
  • We maintain an inventory and records of radioactive waste arisings and accumulations.

These requirements comply with the following principles:

  • Waste will at all times be adequately controlled and/or contained so that it cannot leak or escape.
  • Waste will be accumulated and stored in a manner that is safe and consideration will be given to the benefits of passive safety.
  • Waste will be characterised in terms of the rate of arising, the chemical, physical and radiochemical composition and inventory records will be maintained.
  • Waste with different chemical, physical and radiochemical properties will be segregated where practicable.
  • Volume reduction and decontamination techniques will be employed where practicable.
  • Waste for which there is no available disposal route will be accumulated, conditioned and stored as appropriate pending the availability of a disposal route.
  • The condition of accumulated waste will be monitored in accordance with site licence requirements.
  • For each waste stream, the optimum method and timing for the retrieval, processing and packaging will be determined, taking account of safety, costs, the availability of a disposal route, the decommissioning strategy, and non-foreclosure of future options.
  • Methods of packaging and conditioning wastes are expected to be acceptable for final disposal.

We are improving our arrangements for the management of higher activity waste, including ILW, in preparation for the packaging of ILW at Sizewell in 2013, to enhance site licence compliance arrangements, and to respond to recent guidance from the Office of Nuclear Regulation.  We have made significant progress with development of a packaging and storage solution for ILW resin at Sizewell.  

EDF Energy has plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK. Prior to any investment decision in new plants, EDF Energy would seek to ensure that the plant design takes into account BAT in order to minimise the quantity and activity of nuclear waste arising from future decommissioning of the plant design, as required by the regulator.

Type and tonnes waste / year

LLW definition
The total amount of radioactive waste (LLW or waste that will be disposed of as LLW) that was sent from all Nuclear Generation sites

ILW definition

The ILW Indicator is derived from the UK’s 2010 radioactive waste inventory produced by DECC and the NDA in association with the waste producers. It includes estimates of the annual volume of ILW that will be produced throughout the sites’ lives. The waste volume is given as a packaged waste volume based on proposed waste package types. All ILW is safely stored on power station sites pending a national decision on final disposal


Trend explanation LLW/ILW

Radioactive waste production depends on operating and maintenance patterns so longer-term trends are a better indicator than year-to-year comparisons. Annual values much depend on the amount of maintenance carried out on the plant within the year. Higher volumes of waste are loosely correlated to increased levels of maintenance or are indicative of a particular waste management project that may have been undertaken in addition to routine waste arisings.