Office for Nuclear Regulation

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ONR regulates…..environmental impact of decommissioning projects

19 September, 2012

The latest in our series highlighting the varied responsibilities of the Office for Nuclear Regulation looks at our work in assessing the potential environmental impact of decommissioning projects.  ONR assesses decommissioning projects under the Nuclear Reactors (Environmental Impact Assessment for Decommissioning) Regulations (EIADR).

Claire MacLean, a project officer in ONR’s EIADR team, explains our role in ensuring that any adverse environmental impact is appropriately managed and minimised.

The regulations

The EIADR 1999 regulations, since amended in 2006, apply to all decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear power stations or other nuclear reactors. This includes the reactors, plant associated with power production and removal of related wastes, and buildings and land contaminated as a result of the operation of the reactor.  The regulations also apply to some projects serving national defence purposes.

ONR’s role

The EIADR team is currently staffed by Peter Howden (lead project officer), Ben Hughes and myself. We have various responsibilities under the regulations, assessing applications under EIADR and granting consent for decommissioning projects.  We make assessments to ensure that any environmental impact of the project will be managed effectively and minimised where possible.  This process must involve consultation with other regulatory agencies (such as the Environment Agency and local councils) and the public.

To support this, we have regular interaction with licensees, provide guidance where appropriate and review environmental management plans from sites.  We also assess changes to decommissioning projects which may have significant and adverse effects on the environment as and when they occur (known as regulation 13 determinations).

As part of our regulatory enforcements and oversight of EIADR, we conduct periodic audits at sites to assess the progress of the decommissioning project, management of the environmental impact of the work and general compliance with EIADR requirements.  Recently, for example, we have conducted inspections at Winfrith, Hunterston A, Bradwell and HinkleyPoint A. We also conduct visits to sites to provide guidance and support, especially in preparation for EIADR consent submissions where extensive public consultations are required.

The public consultations apply to all sites when applying for EIADR consent to decommission and is a mandatory part of EIADR regulations.

Looking ahead

There are some significant and important projects expected to start in the near future. In particular, the Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP), which is a long-term and complex project to dismantle 27 Royal Navy nuclear submarines, will be a significant area of activity in the near future and we have already conducted several visits and had significant discussions on the project.

Such projects continue to raise some various novel issues in relation to legal interpretation and the physical process of dismantling, and provide some interesting and varied challenges for ONR.