Radioactive Waste – Storage and Disposal

Key Legislation

This Act regulates the keeping and use of radioactive material and makes provision for the disposal and accumulation of radioactive waste. The Act prohibits disposal or accumulation of radioactive waste except as authorised by SEPA/EA. The Act also enables the Secretary of State to provide facilities for the disposal and accumulation of radioactive waste.

In England and Wales, RSA 93 was migrated into Schedule 23 of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 in April 2010. These regulations have subsequently been amended which clarify or amend certain procedures or permiting conditions.

The Scottish Regulations 2011 amend RSA 93 and adds new provisions to define the substances and articles which are classified as ‘radioactive material’ or ‘radioactive waste’ under the Act.

  • Radioactive Substances (Phosphatic Substances, Rare Earths etc.) Exemption Order 1962

These Regulations provide a number of exemptions for accumulation and disposal of low specific activity material (seeLSA).

Radioactive waste is not classed as special waste due to its radioactivity (this is governed by RSA 93). However where a radioactive waste has other properties (e.g. toxicity) it will also be classed as Special or Hazardous Waste.

The Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (RSA 93) was repealed on 6th April 2010 to allow radioactive substance regulation to be included in the Environmental Permitting regime. The second phase of Environmental Permitting Programme (EPP2) creates a system of risk-based environmental permitting and compliance for radioactive substances regulation; e.g. permits for keeping and use of radioactive materials, and for accumulation and disposal of radioactive waste. Much of the information in the RSA 93 appears in EPR 2010. Existing Registrations and Authorisations automatically became ‘environmental permits’ – current licences continue to be valid. Exemption Orders are under review by DECC; any exemption revisions are expected to be included by amending schedule 23 at the end of 2010. Future Applications for these permits are regulated within the EPR regime, and not under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. The changes are only made in England and Wales. Arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland will stay as they are.

Supporting Legislation

The Environmental Permitting ( England and Wales) Regulations 2010 came into force on 6 April 2010 and were amended in 2012 by the The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012. They provide a consolidated environmental permitting system in England and Wales. They extend the environmental permit system to cover water discharge consents, groundwater authorisations and radioactive substances regulation. The intention is to enable businesses and regulators to gradually adopt a one permit, one-regulator, one-site regime. This will reduce costs and cut red tape whilst continuing to protect the environment. This phase is called ‘Environmental Permitting Phase 2 (EPP2); this affects businesses that:

  1. Discharge to rivers, lakes, estuaries or coastal waters etc
  2. Discharge substances to groundwater
  3. Use or disposal of radioactive substances or wastes

Organisations holding a current water discharge consent, groundwater authorisation or radioactive substances authorisation do not have to re-apply. Existing consents or authorisations automatically become environmental permits under the new regulations.

Consent Needed for Accumulation and Disposal of Radioactive Sources

Certificate of Authorisation for Onshore Disposal of Radioactive Waste is required under Sections 13 and 14 of the Radioactive Substances Act (RSA) 1993. Registration is also required for any offshore accumulation of waste prior to onshore disposal. Permitted onshore disposal routes for solid radioactive waste will be detailed in the Certificate.

If also classed as Special or Hazardous Waste (see Waste Classification) – consignment notes for transfer of waste are required under the Special/Hazardous Wastes Regulations (seeTransfer of Special/Hazardous Waste and SWEN 019).

Some radioactive wastes from offshore may be exempt from registration due to their low levels of radioactivity (seeExemptions).

How to Apply for it

Complete the RSA 3 form (obtained from SEPA/EA) when applying for registration certificates for holding or disposal of radioactive waste (see Environment Agency RSA 3 Form and guidance). Consignment Notes will usually be dealt with by the waste contractor.

Who to Apply To

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland; and the Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales.

When to Apply

4-5 months prior to the use of radioactive material or expected disposal.

Limits Placed on Disposal of Radioactive Material.

In addition to reporting/monitoring requirements described below, the Certificate is likely to impose the following conditions amongst others:

a) that the waste is only being stored for disposal by the means stated;

b) that all necessary measures are taken to prevent any person having access to the waste;

c) that all necessary measures are taken to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, the accumulated waste from contaminating any other substance or article; and

d) that the waste shall be disposed of as soon as it is practicable to do so.

See Example Certificate of Registration for Storage and Disposal.

Types of Radioactive Waste

Radioactive wastes may be solids, liquids or gases and have a range of levels of radioactivity and toxicity.

a) Very low level wastes (VLLW) – wastes which can be disposed of with ordinary wastes, with each 0.1 cubic metre of material containing less than 400 kBq of beta/gamma activity.

b) Low level wastes (LLW) containing radioactive materials other than those suitable for disposal with ordinary waste, but not exceeding 4 GBq/tonne of alpha or 12 GBq/tonne of beta/gamma activity – i.e. wastes that can be accepted for authorised disposal e.g. at Drigg, or other landfill sites by controlled burial. Most oil industry radioactive waste falls into this category.

c) Intermediate level wastes (ILW) arise mainly from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and from general operations of radioactive plants.

d) High level wastes (HLW) are heat generating radioactive wastes.


Note that some disposals are exempted from licensing requirements due to low levels of activity, such as:

a) Solid waste, other than a closed source, which is substantially insoluble in water, the activity of which does not exceed 0.4 Bq/g of mass;

b) Organic liquid waste whose only radioactive content is carbon 14 and/or tritium in which the activity, when it becomes waste, does not exceed 4 Bq/ml; and

c) Gases containing one or more radionuclides none of which, nor the decay products have a half-life not exceeding 100 seconds

Monitoring Material to be Disposed

Prior to offshore disposal a sample of the material must be taken and analysed for radioactivity levels and types.

An estimate of the total activity to be disposed of must be made and recorded.

Record Keeping and Annual Reports

Records must be maintained of radioactive waste stored and transported.

Records must be maintained for a period specified in the authorisation after cessation of activities.

Radioactive waste (including LSA) disposed of onshore (and offshore) must be reported annually to SEPA. Reports on waste disposal should be made annually by 1st April of the following year.

If also classed as Special or Hazardous Waste – additional reporting requirements will be in place.

Lost Sources

It is a condition of registration under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 that sources that cannot be recovered from downhole are notified to HSE as soon as loss is determined.

NB SEPA/EA will regard the source as “in storage” and may require further recovery attempts at well decommissioning.

Who to Report to SEPA/EA
What to do if in Breach of Consent

Immediately inform SEPA/EA.


Use, accumulation or storage of radioactive material without proper authorisation is an offence under the Act. Not complying with any limitations or conditions set by authorisation or non-compliance with enforcement or prohibition notices is an offence under the Act. A person guilty of these offences shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both; or on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.

Failure to display documents on premises as required under Section 19 of the Act is an offence liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or on indictment to a fine.

Failure to keep required records is an offence liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or a prison sentence not exceeding 3 months, or on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 2 years.

Renewal of Certificate of Registration SEPA/EA will review an operator’s registration at intervals of approximately 4 years.
Qualified Experts for Radioactive Waste Management A consultation is being carried out by the EA, SEPA and the NIEA. The consultation is about setting a common standard in the UK, for the competences of a Qualified Expert who can advise employers about radioactive waste management and environmental radiation protection, to meet the requirements of the Radioactive Waste Legislation
New Guidance on Near-Surface Disposal Facilities The principles and requirements for near-surface disposal facilities dealing with radioactive waste have been set down in a new guidance document that was released on the 18 February 2009. Further information can be obtained on the SEPA website. The updated guidance was developed in consultation with industry and prepared jointly with the Environmental Agency in England and Wales.
Proposals for an Integrated Framework of Environmental Regulation The proposals outlined by SEPA will deliver a simpler legislative framework which will enable SEPA to focus greatest effort on the environmental problems that matter most. It will provide a more consistent range of enforcement tools so that, proportionate and effective action can be taken against those who would damage the environment. The consultation that has been undertaken built on previous consultations focusing on changes to the structure of environmental protection legislation in order to create a new, integrated framework for the permissions (licences, permits, rules etc) which will be used to control activities which could harm the environment.
Strategy for the management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) waste in the United Kingdom

This consultation paper will be jointly published by the UK, Scottish, and Welsh Governments and by the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment.

This consultation accessible from the DECC website will conclude on 8th May 2014.

Consultation on the transposition in England and Wales of Articles 14(5)-(8) of the energy efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU) This consultation seeks views from interested parties on proposals to amend the Environmental Permitting Regulations to include some parts of the Energy Efficiency Directive (England and Wales only), helping Defra to identify cost-effective ways to improve energy efficiency.

This consultation accessible from the Defra website will conclude on 21st March 2014.

Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC The Environmental Liability Directive was adopted in 2004 and was required to be implemented by 30 April 2007.  The Directive enforces strict liability for prevention and remediation of environmental damage to ‘biodiversity’, water and land from specified activities and remediation of environmental damage for all other activities through fault or negligence.

The Environmental Liability Directive is now implemented in England and Wales (see Environmental Liability). The Scottish Government has completed its 2nd consultation and regulations are pending.