The government has laid before parliament the Infrastructure Planning (Radioactive Waste Geological Disposal Facilities) Order 2015, which extends the categories of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects ('NSIPs') contained in the Planning Act 2008 to geological disposal facilities to store radioactive nuclear waste. With the arguable exception of commercial and business projects, this is the first new category of NSIPs to be introduced in its own right.

This Order extends the list of NSIPs in section 14 of the Act from (a) to (p) to (a) to (q), and adding a new section 30A that gives the threshold for the new NSIP. The threshold is that it is either a borehole preparing for a radioactive waste facility or the facility itself.

The facility must be for the final disposal of radioactive waste, at least 200m below the ground or sea bed and such that the engineering and natural environment will inhibit radionuclides from reaching the surface. For a borehole to qualify as an NSIP it has to be at least 150m deep and be to test for the suitability of a site as a radioactive waste facility. It could be a single borehole or a series.

The purpose behind creating a new category of NSIP for geological disposal facilities for radioactive waste is to allow the proposed new geological disposal facility (GDF) to use the Planning Act 2008 regime when an application is ready to be submitted. A previous attempt to site a GDF in Cumbria was vetoed by Cumbria County Council in January 2013. The new regime will allow the Secretary of State to have the final say on a Development Consent Order (DCO) for the project.

There is likely to be at least two DCO applications in the future for this category of NSIP. One (or possibly more) for the borehole and one for the facility itself.

The government published a white paper on 24th July 2014, which created a new and improved plan for working with communities to identify a site for a GDF, and which also set out plans to incorporate a GDF into the Planning Act 2008 regime.

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