Response to Defra, Department for Health and Welsh Assembly Government consultation: The draft statutory guidance under Section 4 of the Environment Act 1995 to the Environment Agency concerning the regulation of radioactive discharges
The Environment Agency welcomes the Ministers’ consultation on draft Statutory Guidance.
The current draft statutory guidance was preceded by a previous draft version that was consulted on in 2000 but was never reported on and a formal document was never issued.
We are aware that this was because the responses to the consultation were so opposed that it was impossible to produce a final version.
The uncertain status of the previous draft gives us significant concern and we are pleased that progress is being made in revising the statutory guidance.
It is our strongly held opinion that, after careful consideration of responses to this consultation, the guidance must be finalised and issued according to the proposed timetable.
Having clear statutory guidance about government expectations for control of radioactive discharges is key for regulators, potential developers of new nuclear power stations and existing operators.
If the proposals in the draft statutory guidance are implemented, the current regime of requiring operators to use best practicable environmental option and best practicable means to minimise radioactive waste and discharges will be replaced with a requirement to use best available techniques (BAT).
We believe that this will enable the UK to demonstrate compliance with the Convention on the Prevention of Pollution of the Environment of the North East Atlantic (Oslo-Paris Convention) requirements more clearly, and should deliver a regime that is more consistent with environmental protection regimes in other countries and other regimes in England and Wales.
Government has already introduced a requirement for nuclear operators to use BAT for new nuclear power stations.
We support the introduction of this requirement for existing operators. In our view, the introduction of BAT is an improvement but will not mean a step change in regulatory requirements and we will continue to apply modern risk based regulation.
We will ensure that we take this into account in preparing BAT guidance for our radioactive substances regulation.
The Environment Agency agrees that the draft statutory guidance should apply to both the nuclear and non-nuclear sectors.
We note that this is a significant change to the previous draft version, and aligns with the extension of the draft revised UK discharge strategy to cover non-nuclear discharges.
We believe that this will provide a more complete and thorough approach to regulating radioactive discharges. We confirm that, for the non-nuclear sector, we will also continue to take a risk based approach and that there will be no step change to regulatory requirements.
We welcome the change in this version of the draft statutory guidance to the adoption of a strategic high-level description of our key responsibilities under sections 13, 14, 16 and 17 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 rather than the prescriptive nature of the previous draft.
We welcome the greater flexibility this will provide in the delivery of regulatory requirements.
We are developing detailed guidance in the form of our Radioactive Substance Regulation Environmental Principles (REPs) and are consulting on these simultaneously with this consultation.
We welcome the reference to our REPs in the draft statutory guidance and that Ministers expect that our application of these to our radioactive discharges function should assist in the delivery of the objectives of the statutory guidance.
We have worked with government in advising on the draft statutory guidance so that it fits well with our REPs.
We will continue to do so as the process of completing the statutory guidance reaches its conclusion. We plan to issue a working document of the REPs once we have considered carefully all the comments we have received during our consultation.
We note that Ministers have acknowledged that the REPs will need to change to reflect good practice and up to date requirements.
We will ensure that if we propose significant changes to the REPs in the future, we will advise the government of these.
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