Plans to change the amount of radioactive waste that the Sellafield site is allowed to discharge is set to change.

People are urged to have their say as the Environment Agency launches an eight-week consultation into the proposals.

It would see the majority of limits decrease as the sprawling West Cumbrian nuclear complex winds down, and an increase in limits for the disposal of tritium so decommissioning can progress more quickly.

The site was issued with its Radioactive Substances Activities permit around 20 years ago by the agency, which monitors the effect of radioactive discharge on the population and environment.

There have been no major changes since then, but with the closure of the Thorp plant last November and Magnox reprocessing due to end next year, the site will see a significant reduction in radioactive discharges to the environment.

Around 12 months ago Sellafield Ltd applied for the updated permit.

This week, the Environment Agency has published its verdict on the initial application and now wants people to comment on its draft proposals.

They include more flexibility for Sellafield Ltd to dispose of tritium in its landfill site based at the complex.

It said: "We have decided that we could permit an increase in the tritium limit. Overall, we are satisfied that, subject to a number of improvements and providing additional information, Sellafield Ltd has demonstrated that it has adequate arrangements in place to use the best available techniques and to effectively manage radioactive waste with regard to meeting relevant statutory requirements and government guidance and policy."

Due to Brexit, the increase of the tritium limit would only go ahead if the company receives confirmation that it does not have to make a Euratom submission or if it, and the Government, receive a positive opinion that the discharges will not affect EU member states.

The existing permit includes an overall annual limit from the site and individual plants.

The new permit will lower the majority of these and Sellafield want to introduce a two tier system of an upper and lower limit and removing some limits where discharges have fallen below significant levels and do not meet the agency's criteria for setting limits.

It also puts forward replacing specific plant discharge limits with notification levels so Sellafield Ltd can make most effective use of the available discharge routes and treatment plants.

It said a quarterly notification level would be set at 25 per cent of the site limit so Sellafield Ltd would have to inform the agency if trends indicated it could exceed a site limit, allowing the watchdog to scrutinise operations more closely.

The agency said this would allow the firm to use the best available techniques to minimise discharges of radioactive waste.

Sellafield Ltd would also have to tell the agency if annual levels were exceeded and why they were, so it could investigate.

It said: "Overall, we believe that this new structure of limits and controls provides a high level control of discharges by the operator and regulator while also allowing the flexibility to achieve the Sellafield mission."

Annually, the UK national radiation dose limit for humans and wildlife is 1,000 microsieverts a year. The Environment Agency said it was satisfied the permitted discharges from the Sellafield site would be well below that limit.

It added: "We have assessed the total doses to a representative (most exposed) person as 108 microsieverts and 59 microsieverts a year for discharges of

radioactive waste at the upper and lower site limits respectively. Both values are considerably lower than the total dose at the existing permit site limits of 203 microsieverts a year."

Steve Hardy, nuclear regulation manager for the Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency has been working with Sellafield Ltd to carry out a major review of its permit in readiness for the end of nuclear fuel reprocessing at the Sellafield site.

"We have now reached our draft decision on Sellafield Ltd’s application to vary its permit, having incorporated comments received from the first consultation.

Once again we are encouraging people to have their say, learn more about the proposed changes and provide us with any information that they think is relevant to our decision.”

The consultation will run until December 1. Once it closes, the Environment Agency will review all comments received before issuing the permit variation to Sellafield Ltd.

To access the consultation, visit