Updated: Launch of 2 new consultations
A geological disposal facility (GDF) is a major infrastructure project that will provide a permanent solution to the legacy of higher-activity waste that has been accumulating in the UK since the 1940s. It is a highly engineered facility that will support skilled jobs and sustained investment for local communities into the next century and beyond.
The UK government favours a consent based approach for selecting a site that is based on working in partnership with willing communities. This allows for communities to play an active role in determining their own long-term socioeconomic development and prosperity. However, currently no sites have been selected or are under consideration. Formal engagement with potential host communities is expected to begin in 2018.
2 consultations published 25 January 2018
Both consultations open on 25 January and close on 19 April 2018:
- National Policy Statement for Geological Disposal Facility
- Working with communities: implementing geological disposal
The GDF Annual Report was also published on 25 January 2018:
Press release 25 January 2018:
What is a geological disposal facility?
Geological disposal involves isolating radioactive waste deep inside a suitable rock volume to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment.
A Geological Disposal Facility will be a highly engineered structure consisting of multiple barriers that will provide protection over hundreds of thousands of years.
These barriers ensure geological waste is disposed of safely and include:
- converting liquid waste to a solid through a process of “vitrification”
- packaging solid waste in purpose-built stainless steel, iron or concrete containers
- constructing engineered features, such as vaults and tunnels that are backfilled and sealed, in the facility that will contain the waste packages
- isolating waste inside a suitable, stable rock.
Geological disposal is internationally recognised as the safest and most secure means of permanently managing our higher-activity waste, with countries including Finland, Sweden, Canada and the USA pursuing it.
Geological Disposal Framework
The 2014 Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper provides background information on the radioactive materials that may be declared as waste; how geological disposal became UK government policy; and information on what geological disposal is. It also sets out the policy framework in the form of three ‘initial actions’ for the long-term management of higher radioactive waste.
These ‘initial actions’ include:
- working with a Community Representation Working Group (CRWG), comprising various experts and stakeholders. This group was chaired by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and developed processes for working with communities including representation, testing public support, and disbursing community investment;
- bringing the development of a GDF in England, and the borehole investigations that support their development within the definition of a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’ within the Planning Act 2008, including a National Policy Statement and accompanying Appraisal of Sustainability and Habitats Regulations Assessment;
- establishing an upfront process of national geological screening, which will consider what level of information is already available about geology across the country and how this could usefully be related to the safety case for a GDF.
Working with communities
The objective of this initial action is to develop further policy detail on how the developer will work with communities throughout the siting process for a Geological Disposal Facility. It covers how communities will be identified, engaged, have a say in the siting process, and how community investment funding could be disbursed. Following its commitment in chapter 7 of the 2014 Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper, a Community Representation Working Group (CRWG) was convened to feed into the policy development.
- On 25 January 2018 we published the consultation: Working with communities: implementing geological disposal, alongside a second consultation on the National Policy Statement.
The objective of the National Land-use Planning initial action in chapter 6 of the 2014 Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper, is to put in place a clear and transparent process for GDF land-use planning decisions in England. This will ensure that the approach is appropriate for an infrastructure project of this scale and importance, and consistent with that currently used in relation to other major energy, transport and waste projects. It will also support engagement with communities through the (wholly separate) siting process, as the Planning Act 2008 enshrines the role of local authorities within the development consent process, putting consultation with local communities and a thorough consideration of local impacts, at the heart of the development consent process.
National Geological Screening
Following a commitment in chapter 5 of the 2014 Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper, the delivery-body, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) has undertaken a national geological screening exercise.
This exercise brought together existing information about aspects of geology that are relevant to the long-term safety of a GDF and work is ongoing to present this in an accessible form. It will provide authoritative information for England, Wales and Northern Ireland that can be used in early discussions with communities about their geological potential to host a GDF. RWM is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and is responsible for implementing policy on geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste.
The outputs from the national geological screening will be presented as a series of narratives for the regions of England, Wales and Northern Ireland describing the key characteristics of the geological environment and their relevance to safety. The narratives will be illustrated with maps, where appropriate.
RWM’s website contains further information on national geological screening.
Links to further information
- Radioactive Waste Management
- Community Representation Working Group
- National Geological Screening
- Committee on Radioactive Waste Management
- Implementing Geological Disposal Technology Platform