New approach for selecting UK repository site

25 July 2014

The UK government has published its framework policy for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste, including details of how it intends to work with interested communities to site a geological disposal facility.

A long-term geological repository is the UK's favoured method for management of its intermediate- and high-level radioactive waste, with a site selection process centred on community voluntarism. Two communities in Cumbria - Copeland and Allerdale - had expressed interest in hosting a repository, but the selection process ground to a halt in January 2013 when the local county council voted against moving to the next stage of the process.

"Today we are setting out our plan to find a suitable site, based on a fundamental principle of listening to people, to make sure we have the right process in place."

Ed Davey
Energy and climate change secretary

The government released a White Paper yesterday that updates and replaces one from 2008 using input from a public consultation conducted last year on the site selection process. it also takes account of lessons learned during the previous siting process. According to the White Paper, Implementing Geological Disposal, the government 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.

Energy and climate change secretary Edward Davey said, "All this is intended to happen before formal discussions between interested communities and the developer begin, so that any community wanting to engage with the process can do so with more information and greater clarity about the nature of a development."

Community investment

The government said that investment of up to £1 million ($1.7 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 ($4.2 million) per year to each of those communities that then enters formal discussions. This investment would only continue whilst a community remains engaged in the process.

"We cannot be certain how long it will take to deliver an operational geological disposal facility, as the driver for the process is a partnership approach with potential host communities and will be dependent on discussions with local communities," the government said. However, it estimated 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.

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, "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."

Davey said, "Today we are setting out our plan to find a suitable site, based on a fundamental principle of listening to people, to make sure we have the right process in place. The area that eventually hosts a geological disposal facility will benefit from significant investment in the community and hundreds of skilled jobs for decades to come."

The waste to be disposed of in the repository would include used fuel from the UK's existing and planned nuclear power reactors, as well as wastes from reprocessing operations at Sellafield. In addition, it will include wastes from defence, medical, industrial, and research and development activities. The current estimated volume of all such wastes is some 650,000 cubic metres.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News