Support for nuclear power stations in Wales

Radioactive waste is a devolved matter in Wales so the Welsh Government is responsible for determining the policy for the disposal of radioactive waste.

The policy document Energy Wales: A Low Carbon transition (March 2012) recognises the importance of new nuclear build at Wylfa Newydd in providing a constant, reliable low carbon energy source to complement the range of renewable energy developments in Wales.

The Welsh Government accepts that Wylfa Newydd will produce higher activity radioactive waste disposal (HAW) and spent fuel, but the current Welsh Government policy does not support any option for disposing of the HAW or spent fuel. In this context, the Welsh Government is reviewing its current policy to address this inconsistency.

Evolution of policy on disposal of HAW: summary timeline

  • 2008 - Managing Radioactive Waste Safely – A Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal (the 2008 White Paper). Siting process for a geological disposal facility (GDF) in England established, based on the principle of voluntarism and local communities’ willingness to participate in the process.
  • 2008 - Welsh Government reserves its position neither supporting nor opposing the policy on geological disposal.
  • January 2013 – a vote by local authorities in west Cumbria (Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils and Cumbria County Council) ended the existing UK site selection process for a GDF.
  • September 2013 – DECC consultation on improving aspects of the siting process for a GDF.
  • September 2013 - consultation on siting GDF issued in Wales, but the Welsh Government makes it clear that it was not committing itself to adopt the policies outlined in the DECC paper.
  • April 2014 – the Welsh Government call for evidence asking for views on whether policy on HAW should be reviewed.
  • July 2014 - DECC White Paper (i.e. a statement of proposed legislation) on Implementing Geological Disposal makes proposals which refer to England, and do not apply in Wales.
  • October 2014 – the Welsh Government announced its intention to introduce a review of its existing waste policy on HAW disposal.

Wales: HAW policy review

While reserving its policy position in 2008 the Welsh Government stated its intention to continue to play a full part in the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) programme, in order to secure the long term safety of radioactive wastes; to ensure the implementation of a framework appropriate to the needs of Wales; and to ensure that the interests of Wales are taken into account in the development of policies in this area.

A number of reasons led the Welsh Government to consider that the time may have come to review its policy to ensure that it remains appropriate for the needs of Wales, including: the need to comply with EU Directives; its policy on nuclear power stations on existing sites having altered since it was adopted; and the UK Government restarting its siting process for a GDF in England towards the latter part of 2013.

This meant that the DECC consultation (July 2014) on GDF development in England was also published in Wales, but the Welsh Government made it clear that it was not committing itself to adopt the policies outlined in the DECC paper. Following the call for evidence (April 2014) on whether it should review its policy, the Welsh Government announced its intention in October 2014 to carry out a review of its existing waste policy on HAW disposal.

Preferred option for disposal

The Welsh Government's preferred option is for a new policy to allow for the permanent disposal of HAW and spent fuel using a GDF, in line with its support of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey.

However, it is made clear that if, following the consultation, a policy is adopted supporting geological disposal it does not mean either that a GDF will be sited in Wales or that the Welsh Government will seek to have a GDF sited in Wales. Current Welsh Government policy is to support the recommendation that geological disposal should only proceed on the basis of willing participation of a potential volunteer host community, or communities. Support for this approach remains and will be included in any future policy.

Current Welsh Government policy does not prevent a potential host community from seeking discussions with the Welsh Government on hosting a GDF. In addition to the willing participation of a potential host community or communities, siting a GDF, whether in Wales or elsewhere in the UK, will require suitable geology and for the developer to produce a safety case which meets the requirements of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the environmental regulator, Natural Resources Wales.

Comment

The DECC response to consultation (July 2014) and the Government White Paper confirmed that for England the Government would be bringing forward a National Policy Statement (NPS), but this would not be site-specific (unlike the NPS for nuclear), because the site selection process for the GDF will not be complete by then.

The White Paper confirms that the Planning Act 2008 regime would be extended to a GDF in England by amending section 14 to make GDF a category of NSIP. It also confirms that the surface-based borehole investigations that are necessary to characterise and assess potential sites will be an integral part of the process for developing a GDF. Therefore these investigations will also be brought within the definition of NSIP, in their own right. The White Paper states that the legislative changes would be made 'as soon as practicable' and that the NPS and legislative changes would be in place by 2016. The Planning Act 2008 gives the Secretary of State the power to amend the categories of NSIPs, subject to the limitation that the new types of project may be added only if they are in a number of fields including waste. To date there is no sign of further changes which makes it unlikely that these will now come forward before the general election in May 2015.

In detailed examination of the Infrastructure Bill provisions in the Lords Grand Committee Baroness Verma (on behalf of the Government) noted that the deep-level land access right would only apply in relation to petroleum or deep geothermal energy. She stated that it would not apply to nuclear waste.

If the chosen site is in Wales, the Planning Act 2008 is unlikely to apply given the stated intention to amend the categories of NSIPs in relation to England. The Planning (Wales) Bill currently being progressed by the Welsh Government will introduce a new category of development to be known as developments of national significance (DNS). These DNS may include projects identified by national policy statements issued by Welsh Ministers, and identified through the thresholds and criteria to be set out in secondary legislation. While the detail is not yet known, the indications are that consenting will resemble the current procedures for written representations, hearings and inquiries, with the procedures for the consideration of DNS applications being based on the procedure rules for appeals and references to the Welsh Ministers.

The Planning (Wales) Bill is not likely to be enacted before the end of 2015/early 2016. The consenting process for the GDF, be it England or Wales, is not likely to be in place before that time and we may well be looking at different processes depending where the GDF will be located.