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UK unveils new programme to develop underground nuclear waste repository

25 July 2014

On July 24 the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) published a new white paper, Implementing Geological Disposal, updating its policy for the long-term management of higher level radioactive wastes, including details of how it intends to work with interested communities to site a geological disposal facility (GDF).

Geological disposal facility cutaway - NDA
Geological disposal facility cutaway - NDA

The previous policy collapsed in 2013 when the last willing council in Cumbria backed out.
A long-term underground repository is the UK's favoured method for management of its intermediate- and high-level radioactive waste. The process is politically significant because the UK government's policy is not to give development consent for new nuclear power stations before it is "satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste they will produce."

The white paper uses input from public consultations conducted last year and takes account of lessons learned during the previous site selection process. According to the white paper, the government still favours a voluntarist approach, working alongside communities that are willing to take part in the siting process. It sets out a number of initial actions to be undertaken by the government itself and by Nuclear Decommissioning Authority subsidiary Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM), the developer of the facility.

A two-year process will see the government and RWM work on a national geological screening exercise, preparation for engagement with communities, and development of the necessary planning processes. DECC estimates that after the initial two-year phase, it could be another 15-20 years before the site selection process is completed and construction can start.

The government said that investment of up to £1 million per year would be available to each community that participates in the early stage of the siting process. This would increase to £2.5 million per year to each of those communities that then enters formal discussions.

RWM Managing Director Bruce McKirdy noted that the new plan "clearly positions the public at the centre of any final decision-making on where a facility is sited." He said, “The first steps will be to conduct a national geological screening exercise looking at the country’s geology, working closely with other experts and with stakeholders.  We will explain, discuss and respond to the many questions the public will inevitably have, building relationships with communities around the country, so that they have trust and confidence that we are working in partnership with them throughout this exercise.”


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