Charting a Path to the Future
The UK has had civil nuclear power for over half a century and a significant legacy of higher activity nuclear waste and spent fuel awaits disposal. UK Government policy is to construct a geological disposal facility (GDF) to dispose of these materials, safely containing them over hundreds of thousands of years, while radioactive decay reduces their potential harm. Scotland has developed its own policy. To ensure that the GDF is fit for purpose, we need to understand the long term effects of irradiation on materials as well as the interactions between the various components of a facility and the wastes. Radiochemical research will play an important role in helping us understand these processes and will enable us to implement the best strategies for long term disposal. Studies on radionuclide release from spent fuel and vitrified wastes, the effects of complexants on radionuclide behaviour, the impact of microbes on the mobility of radionuclides and the behaviour of colloids (see Box 1) and non-aqueous phase liquids (see Box 2) – all of these pose questions that need to be answered as we develop the safety case for a geological disposal facility. Bringing all this research effort together to build a comprehensive safety case for the final repository, one that reflects best practice from around the world, is one of the tasks assigned to a new organisation, Radioactive Waste Management. RWM was created in April 2014 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). It builds on the work of the NDA's former Radioactive Waste Management Directorate.