The paper uses the historical record of radioactive discharges from BNFL’s Sellafield reprocessing site in the UK and seeks to identify what have been the key drivers for change, particularly over the past 20 years of significant discharge reductions. The paper examines the current context for ongoing and future discharges from the site, including intergovernmental commitments such as the OSPAR Sintra statement and the developing UK policy framework, together with BNFL’s work with a wide range of ‘green’ stakeholders. The paper outlines the principal components of BNFL’s decision-making processes for discharge control and abatement, and how these interact with the relevant external pressures. It then analyses whether the overall drivers and outcomes align with the declared desire of the UK government to ensure that the taxpayer receives value for money in the new national arrangements for managing legacy wastes from the nuclear industry.

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