Geological Disposal

Introduction

The current UK and Welsh Government policy is for the UK’s Higher Activity Radioactive Waste (HAW) to be disposed of in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) a large scale, highly engineered development located deep underground in suitable geology. Through the use of multiple barriers contained within an appropriate rock formation, itself a further barrier, the aim is to ensure that no harmful quantities of radiation reach the surface or affect humans and the environment.

This approach was, with certain qualifications, recommended to Government by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), an independent expert advisory group, following many years of research and consideration. Geological disposal has been adopted by every country that has made a final decision on the long-term management of such materials.

NDA Corner Section

A 2014 White Paper set out the high-level framework and the further work that was required before a GDF siting process could begin.  The White Paper sought to build on the lessons learnt from the previous Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, while maintaining the core commitment that a Geological Disposal Facility would only be sited in a consenting community. Only communities in England and Wales can enter the process – Scotland has a different approach to HAW management.

To take forward the proposals in the White Paper, the Community Representation Working Group (CRWG) was established, with Nuleaf a member. The Group considered 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. It reported to the UK Government in 2016.

Launch of the siting process

Informed by the CRWG and consultations on the land use planning and geology aspects of the proposals. the GDF siting process was launched in England in December 2018 and in Wales in January 2019.

Two communities, Allerdale and Copeland have now formally entered and others may follow.

As a first stage of the process Copeland and Allerdale have established Working Groups to begin local discussions and fact-finding with the community. These Groups involve the local authority, RWM and parties who have expressed an interest in the GDF.

Working Group tasks will include identifying and proposing a Search Area for further consideration. They will speak with citizens across the community to begin to understand any issues or questions they might have about geological disposal. The Groups will also recruit initial members for a Community Partnership that may be established in due course to take the process further forward.

Key aspects of current policy

Current Policy has three main elements: Working with communities, planning and geology and is being taken forward by Radioactive Waste Management Ltd. (RWM), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA):

The Working with Communities policy for England and Wales provides the framework for engagement between the developer (RWM) and any local authority or community involved in the GDF siting process. The policy is based on a consent-based approach, in other words, it will be up to individual interested parties and local authorities to decide whether to enter and then remain in the process.   After many years of engagement and learning, the development will only proceed if the community gives its consent to the development through a test of support.

Local community engagement in the GDF siting process will be guided by a Community Partnership, who will work with RWM and the wider local community over a period of 15-20 years to establish the suitability of any potential local sites. During this time each community will receive funding of up to £1 million per annum, rising to a maximum of £2.5 million per annum later on. Once a site has been agreed and the community has consented, further significant investment will be provided. The construction of a GDF and disposal of the waste will take around 100 years.

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As the GDF has been declared a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) the policy framework for planning decisions on Geological Disposal Infrastructure in England is governed by a National Policy Statement was designated by the Secretary of State in October 2019.

Radioactive Waste Management Ltd (RWM) has also undertaken a national geological screening exercise, and developed materials to help interested parties understand the geological aspects of the siting process.

The organisation has also published its approach to Site Evaluation. That is the assessment of the relative merits of individual sites which are put forward as possible locations for a

A series of short videos explains the siting process.

Implementation, scrutiny and regulation

Government has tasked Radioactive Waste Management  Ltd (RWM) with responsibility 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.

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.

Nuleaf support for local authorities

Local authorities have been given a central role at every stage of the GDF siting process and Nuleaf is committed to supporting and advising any local authority engaging in the process.

Our Policy Statement 3 sets out our views on the GDF siting process. We agree with 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.

In addition, Nuleaf will:

  • continue to represent local authority views in discussions with Government, RWM and the regulators;
  • provide 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;
  • produce briefing material as required; and
  • respond to consultations.

More information on geological disposal and the siting process can be found in Briefing Paper 14. Nuleaf’s Briefing Paper 16 explains CoRWM’s guidance on geological disposal, while Briefing Paper 17 details the current and possible future inventory for GDF disposal. The issue of retrievability of waste is explored in Briefing Paper 5.

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 philip.matthews@nuleaf.org.uk

International Approaches to Geological Disposal

Countries around the world are at various stages of developing a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), while others are undertaking research. The current situation is set out here.

Information is exchanged between countries through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

Nuleaf is engaged at an international level through our involvement in GMF Europe and international projects run by the IAEA, NEA and others. More information on this can be found here.