Cuardrilla, one of the largest fracking firms, went under investigaton by the BBC [ALAMY]
The move means that while the firm can drill test sites it cannot frack any gas or oil reserves it finds.
Work can go ahead only if it has Environment Agency radioactive waste permits proving extractors can safely remove dangerous waste products.
Fracking involves pumping high-pressure water into rock deep underground to open fissures and release trapped gas.
A by-product is waste water contaminated by natural low-level radiation. Cuadrilla insisted to BBC Inside Out North West that it does hope in the future to submit new waste permit applications in Lancashire where shale rock is thought to contain huge amounts of natural gas.
But radiation waste adviser Dr Trevor Jones told BBC investigators that significant investment is likely to be needed to find a way to solve the waste problem, meaning plans for fracking all across the UK could be held up. The Government has pinned hopes for cheaper energy on the success of fracking.
Protestors at the fracking site in Balcombe last summer [GETTY]
Fracking may or may not become a boom industry Paul Rose, marine expert and explorer
Cuadrilla believes it can overcome the issue of disposing of radioactive water and says it has run successful trials. But these have yet to be proven full-scale.
The TV investigation, to be shown at 7.30pm tonight on BBC1 in the North-west, also reveals that almost two million gallons of radioactive water produced by Cuadrilla under earlier rules was authorised for discharge, legally, into the Manchester Ship Canal.
Marine expert and explorer Paul Rose, who presents the programme, concludes: “Fracking may or may not become a boom industry.
“The operators will know what’s down there only by drilling many more exploratory wells. If the gas is viable, they’ll be producing lots and lots of water contaminated with radiation. The only certainty we have now is that no one, yet, can guarantee how those sorts of volumes are going to be cleaned.”
During the summer, Cuadrilla was the target of protests by locals and hundreds of activists from around the country over its drilling activities in Balcombe, West Sussex.
The company announced last week that it would not frack at Balcombe because, although it had found oil at the site, the nature of the rock meant fracking was not a suitable extraction technique.