Radioactive Waste – Storage and Disposal

-For information on the impact of Brexit on oil and gas environmental legislation, please refer to the pdf document downloadable from the Home Page.

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:
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 (see Transfer of Special/Hazardous Waste and SWEN 019 (PDF document)).

Application for the accumulation and disposal of radioactive waste from the NORM industrial activity of the oil and gas industry.

Some radioactive wastes from offshore may be exempt from registration due to their low levels of radioactivity (see Exemptions under the Performance Standards tab).

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 (PDF document)). Consignment Notes will usually be dealt with by the waste contractor.

Complete the RSR-B6 form to apply for a standard facility for the accumulation and disposal of radioactive waste from the NORM industrial activity of the oil and gas industry.

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 the information under the Reporting and Monitoring Requirements  tabs, the Certificate is likely to impose the following conditions amongst others:

  1. That the waste is only being stored for disposal by the means stated
  2. That all necessary measures are taken to prevent any person having access to the waste
  3. That all necessary measures are taken to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, the accumulated waste from contaminating any other substance or article
  4. 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 (PDF document).

Types of Radioactive Waste:

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

  • Very low level wastes (VLLW) – wastes which can be disposed of with ordinary wastes, each with 0.1 cubic metre of material containing less than 400 kBq of beta/gamma activity.
  • 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.
  • Intermediate level wastes (ILW) arise mainly from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and from general operations of radioactive plants.
  • 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:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 of radioactive waste stored and transported must be maintained.

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 1 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.
Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CRWM) Triennial Review 2015 The government has published the findings of the review which concluded that CoRWM should continue in its role as an advisory Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) providing independent advice, based on the available evidence (link here).
Appraisal of Sustainability Scoping and Habitats Regulations Assessment Methodology Reports for Geological Disposal National Policy Statement This consultation has concluded and the government’s response to the appraisal of sustainability of the national policy statement for geological disposal of radioactive waste: Scoping Report is now available (link here).A public consultation on the draft National Policy Statement, including a full Appraisal of Sustainability and Habitats Regulation Assessment, is expected to take place in spring 2016.
Strategy for the management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) waste in the United Kingdom:

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

This consultation concluded on the 8th May 2014.  The Government response and NORM strategy are available from the BEIS (then DECC) website.

Consultation on the transposition in England and Wales of Articles 14(5)-(8) of the energy efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU): This consultation looked for 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 concluded on the 21 March 2014.  Relevant papers are accessible from the Defra website.

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 second consultation and regulations are pending.