Siting a Geological Disposal Facility

GDF - 2D Section - Final small

In July 2014, the Government, through a White Paper – Implementing Geological Disposal, launched a new process aimed at identifying a site (or sites) for the disposal of the UK’s Higher Activity Radioactive Wastes (HAW).  NuLeAF has produced a Briefing Paper on the White Paper and the issues relating to local government.

The White Paper has sought to build on the lessons learnt from the previous Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process (see below), while maintaining the core commitment that a Geological Disposal Facility would only be sited in a community that volunteers to enter into the process, and later agrees to proceed with development. Only communities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can enter the process – Scotland has a different approach to HAW management.

Communities entering the siting process will receive up to £1 million per year in community funds rising to £2.5 million per year. The community chosen to host the Geological Disposal Facility will receive hundreds of  millions of pounds of community investment in addition to the direct employment provided.  A diagram ‘Geological disposal: making it happen’ shows the progress of siting process (see below – click to enlarge).

timetable lg

The White Paper recognised that more work needed to be done on a range of issues including how a community is defined, who should be represented on any local siting partnership, how community funds should be managed, and how local support for proceeding with the development should be tested. These issues were considered by a Community Representation Working Group (CRWG) which reported to Government in summer 2016. At the same time work has been undertaken considering the geological and land use planning aspects of the process.

Working with Communities and Land-use Planning consultations, 2018

On 25th January, BEIS and the Welsh Government opened consultations on working with communities and land use planning as part of the Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) siting process in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The consultations will run until 11.45pm on the 19th April 2018. The consultations can be found on the BEIS website here:

As part of the consultations, BEIS will be hosting workshops on the community consultation in 5 locations across England, along with a technical event on the planning consultation. Details of the timing and location of the workshops has yet to be finalised, and will be posted on this webpage when they are available.

NuLeAF will be organising a GDF workshop as part of the Steering Group meeting being held in Manchester on 21st March, with presentations from BEIS and RWM. This will allow members an additional opportunity to consider the proposals and to provide input to NuLeAF’s responses to the consultations which will be shared with members prior to the meeting.

A full appraisal of the proposals in NuLeAF’s draft responses. It is however worth noting that the communities consultation proposes that:

  • The ‘community’ for the siting process will be identified from a  wider ‘Search Area’ which is then reduced in scope. This smaller area will be based on an assessment of the area affected by the impacts of the development and existing administrative boundaries.
  • Initial interest and discussions can be initiated by anyone within an area, but will need to be opened up to include the wider community at an early stage. As the process moves towards this ‘formative engagement’, local authorities will need to be informed and also involved in discussions if they wish.
  • A Community Partnership would then be set up which would take forward constructive engagement with the community. The Partnership would sign a Community Agreement (essentially a Memorandum of Understanding) to take forward this engagement and would receive up to £1million per annum of community investment funding. This will rise to £2.5 million for communities that progress to deep borehole investigation.
  • Local authorities (including both counties and districts in two tier areas) will need to be invited on to the Community Partnership but may choose to be directly involved, to observe, or to remain neutral.
  • Both the community and the developer has the right of withdrawal from the process right up to the test of public support.
  • The test of support could be done via a range of methods including a referendum, consultation or representative polling.

Much of what is proposed is in line with the 2014 White Paper and the discussions of the Community Representation Working Group. However, the consultation document has strengthened the proposed role for local authorities. While stopping short of granting local authorities an absolute veto on progress, if councils (both country, unitary or districts) decide they no longer wish to support the process proceeding, it is felt unlikely that the Community Partnership will be able to launch or demonstrate a Test of Public Support. This would effectively end progress with the siting process within an area.


NuLeAF Policy

NuLeAF’s policy statement on geological disposal is available at Policy Statement 3 – Geological Disposal. NuLeAF supports the view of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) that geological disposal is, at the present time, the best available approach for the long-term management of higher activity waste.

Advice and assistance

NuLeAF has been, and is, closely involved in discussions about the GDF and the implementation framework. It has therefore built up knowledge and understanding of the issues, and relationships with those involved, including Government, RWM and the regulators. If any local authority wishes to discuss potential involvement in the siting process with NuLeAF, please contact us on 01473 264833 or at

NuLeAF work on GDF siting

In addition to offering advice and assistance to any local authority that wishes to discuss the possibility of expressing an interest in the siting process, NuLeAF will be:

  • continuing to represent local authority views in discussions with Government, RWM and the regulators;
  • providing a forum, through our Steering Group and Radioactive Waste Planning Group, for members to discuss the issues around geological disposal with RWM, government and regulators;
  • producing briefing material as required; and
  • responding to consultations.

Updates are provided in reports to the NuLeAF Steering Group which can be found in the Document Library.

Implementation, scrutiny and regulation

Government has made the NDA the implementing organisation, responsible for planning and delivering the GDF. In April 2014, NDA created a wholly-owned subsidiary, Radioactive Waste Management Limited, which will be responsible for implementing geological disposal on NDA’s behalf.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) provides independent scrutiny and advice to Government on the long-term management of radioactive wastes. Information about CoRWM’s role is available on their web pages.

The programme for siting a GDF is subject to regulatory scrutiny. The Environment Agency/Natural Resource Wales, along with the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), are responsible for the regulation of the GDF process and ensuring that it is safe for humans and the environment.

The UK Government reports annually to Parliament on progress with the GDF process. Their latest annual report was published in January 2018. The Welsh Government, working with Natural Resource Wales and ONR, will provide oversight for the GDF process in Wales.

Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Process

The forerunner to the current Geological Disposal Facility siting process was the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process launched by Government in 2008. It too worked on a volunteerist principle and in 2009 three local authorities in Cumbria submitted formal ‘Expressions of Interest’ to Government – Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council.

A partnership was established with participation from Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council, Cumbria County Council, the Cumbrian Association of Local Councils and other local stakeholders. NuLeAF was also a member of the partnership. The partnership’s primary role was to advise the relevant local authorities about whether to take formal decisions to participate in the siting process for a GDF.

The final report of the Partnership was submitted to the three participating councils in July 2012. A decision on whether or not they should proceed to Stage 4 of the MRWS process was made by the councils on 30 January 2013 (the Cabinet reports can be viewed on each council’s website: Allerdale Borough Council, Copeland Borough Council and Cumbria County Council). Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils voted to proceed, but Cumbria County Council voted to withdraw. Because, under guidance from DECC, agreement was needed at both levels of local government (district and county) before any further work can be carried out, this effectively halted the process in West Cumbria. The Energy Secretary issued a statement regarding the councils decisions.

International approaches to the management of high level wastes

Disposal of higher activity wastes is being investigated by many countries. Click here for a synopsis of what approach is being taken elsewhere.

Further information

Further explanation and background information can be found on RWM’s website.

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