Policy Summary: National Policy Statement (NPS) for Geological Disposal Infrastructure

Issued by: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS).

Nuclear: waste disposal site policy statement published (pic: Getty)
Nuclear: waste disposal site policy statement published (pic: Getty)

Issued: July 2019

Background: The NPS sets out the need for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) related to the geological disposal of radioactive waste in England and the government’s approach to deliver them. It also provides planning guidance for developers of NSIPs on geological disposal infrastructure and the deep borehole investigations necessary to characterise the geology at a particular site to enable assessment of the sites’ suitability for a geological disposal facility.

Key points: The document provides considerable detail on the planning process expcted for both geological disposal facilities and deep boreholes. In terms of the latter, it says that multiple deep borehole investigations will be needed in order to properly assess the merits of a site for a geological disposal facility. "The need and location of any deep boreholes required later in the process [will be] informed by the data obtained from earlier deep borehole investigations," it states.     

For this reason, several separate applications for development consent for deep boreholes are likely to be made rather than one application for the total number of deep boreholes. When a potential site is identified, the NPS say that a programme of focussed geological investigations, known as a site characterisation programme, must take place, which will include a number of deep borehole investigations and will aim to characterise the subsurface to such a degree that "the developer is confident a safety case can be made for a geological disposal facility".   

However, the NPS says that an applicant may choose to make a development consent application for deep boreholes that covers a single deep borehole; one or more tranches of a specified number of deep boreholes; or both one or more deep boreholes and a geological disposal facility. "Any of these options for taking forward a development consent application for deep borehole investigations would in principle be acceptable provided that an environmental assessment can be, and is, carried out by the applicant," it adds.   

The document also makes clear that site characterisation programmes are expected to take a significant amount of time if they are to be robust. "There is likely to be significant variation in the timing, phasing and number of deep boreholes required at different potential sites, as this will be highly dependent on the geological conditions at the respective sites," it states. "A full site characterisation programme is anticipated to take up to 10 to 15 years to complete."   

When it comes to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the geological disposal facilities themselves, the NPS says that a broader assessment will be required than for the exploratory boreholes. The operational lifespan of such facilities is estimated to be approximately 150 years, though the facility itself must remain safe and secure over much longer timescales, it states.     

Therefore, "development consent applications must consider the long-term impacts of the facility, including explaining how the needs of future generations have been considered." It adds: "As part of any application for development consent, the applicant should be clear about the estimated operational lifetime and potential variances in this estimated timescale."

The document can be read here. 

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