Underground location sought by UK to store nuclear waste long term

The UK government has launched a consultation to decide on an underground location in which to place a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) where it can store its nuclear waste.

The process involves placing nuclear waste at least 200 metres underground in a highly engineered facility made up of multiple layers of materials such as steel, rock and clay to provide protection, while some of the waste remains radioactive - ensuring that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface.

Around 20 per cent of Britain’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, which produce radioactive waste that can remain harmful for thousands of years and must be stored safely.

Britain also plans to build a new fleet of nuclear plants, starting with EDF’s Hinkley Point C project, to replace ageing nuclear reactors and coal plants coming offline in the 2020s.

“We owe it to future generations to take action now to find a suitable permanent site for the safe disposal of our radioactive waste. Planning consent will only be given to sites which have local support,” Richard Harrington, a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said in a statement.

A new GDF is estimated to create up to 2,000 well-paid, skilled jobs and bring at least £8bn to the UK economy over the lifetime of the facility.

Around 80 per cent of Britain’s nuclear waste is currently stored at the Sellafield nuclear plant site in Cumbria, in the northwest of England.

The consultations, which apply to England, Northern Ireland and Wales, are open to everybody and will run for the next 12 weeks, BEIS said.

The Sellafield plant is over 60 years old and some nuclear experts have said geological storage sites are a better storage solution for the future.

“A geological disposal facility is widely accepted as the only realistic way to dispose of higher activity nuclear waste for the long term,” Iain Stewart, director of the Sustainable Earth Institute, Plymouth University said in the BEIS statement.

Environmentalists have strongly criticised the plan.

“Since there is no permanent solution for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, the responsible thing to do would be to stop producing more of it instead of just passing the radioactive buck to future generations,” Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr said.

Scotland is excluded from the consultation as its devolved government has a policy that radioactive waste should be stored in near-surface sites, rather than be buried underground.

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