Radioactive waste management and the search for a geological disposal site is a devolved issue, so there are slightly different approaches in each nation of the UK — with consequent implications for local authorities, communities, and the GDF developer, RWM.
Interestingly, not only is waste management and geological disposal policy a devolved responsibility, but most laws covering implementation of the policy and eventual construction of a GDF are also devolved, eg environmental regulation, planning legislation, socioeconomic development, etc.
This means RWM might need to manage four often similar, but different, programmes, and need to take account of local cultural, social and political sentiment, which vary considerably across the four nations.
Of the home nations, Wales has perhaps the most developed programme for geological disposal. The Welsh Government has run its own independent consultation on the policy and will issue its own consultation on Working With Communities. The Welsh Government supports geological disposal, but unlike the Westminster Government, is not seeking to find a site. The Welsh Government’s primary concern is to ensure no Welsh community interested in hosting a GDF is disadvantaged in the process, and that should a Welsh community come forward, its interests are actively promoted and protected in any discussions with the developer and/or the Westminster Government.
The Northern Ireland Executive has also supported geological disposal. It is normal in many devolved policy areas for NI to participate in UK Government consultations rather than conduct their own. However, there are no existing nuclear facilities in NI, and Dublin has a long-standing anti-nuclear stance. This has led some observers to conclude that while the NI Executive may support the principle of geological disposal, it is unlikely that a GDF would ever be built in NI, as this might affect the wider peace process on the island of Ireland.
Since assuming power in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP have implemented a broad range of ‘nuclear free’ policy decisions in line with their Party’s long-standing commitment on the issue. This includes how to dispose of radioactive waste. Breaking step with the international consensus on geological disposal, the Scottish Government prefers to explore surface or near-surface options, and have been consulting on how to implement such an approach consistent with internationally-agreed safety standards and other obligations. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a document on safety and near surface disposal in early 2018.