Cumbrian community exits repository site search

28 September 2023

Allerdale - one of four locations being evaluated - has been removed from the UK geological disposal facility siting process due to limited suitable geology, Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) announced. It is expected that a final site selection could be a process which takes 10-15 years.

The Allerdale search area (Image: NWS)

A geological disposal facility (GDF) comprises a network of highly-engineered underground vaults and tunnels built to permanently dispose of higher activity radioactive waste so that no harmful levels of radiation ever reach the surface environment. Countries such as Finland, Sweden, France, Canada and the USA are also pursuing this option. The UK search for a site is based on the idea of community consent.

Four localities formed Community Partnerships interested in hosting it - Allerdale, South Copeland and Mid Copeland in Cumbria in northwest England, and Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire, in eastern England. The Allerdale GDF Community Partnership was the third to form, in January 2022, following Mid Copeland GDF Community Partnership and South Copeland GDF Community Partnership in late-2021. A Community Partnership was formed in Theddlethorpe in June 2022.

Allerdale GDF Community Partnership focused its engagement activities in a 320 square-kilometre search area covering 13 electoral wards: Aspatria; Broughton St Bridgets; Dalton; Ellen & Gilcrux; Flimby; Harrington & Salterbeck; Maryport North; Maryport South; Moorclose & Moss Bay; Seaton & Northside; St John's; St Michael's and Stainburn & Clifton.

In a process that began in June this year, each of the potential locations is being assessed by NWS against a number of siting factors, including safety and security, the environment, engineering feasibility, geology, transport and value for money. The overall aim is to ensure that a GDF can be constructed, operated and closed safely. The initial stage will see geophysical surveys and desk-based studies of existing data on local geology and things such as transport infrastructure.

"Following a comprehensive and robust evaluation of information it was concluded only a limited volume of suitable rock was identifiable and the geology in the [Allerdale] area was unlikely to support a post-closure safety case," NWS has now said. "NWS has therefore taken the decision not to take Allerdale further in the search for a suitable site to host a GDF."

"We need enough suitable geology to accommodate a GDF and to support safety cases to build, operate, and close the facility," said NWS CEO Corhyn Parr. "Our assessments show evidence of limited volume of suitable rock for a GDF in the Allerdale search area, including the adjacent inshore area."

NWS said initial assessments of existing data and information for the other three communities in the siting process have indicated potentially suitable geology.

"The door also remains open for new communities to join the process," Parr said.

When a site is ultimately selected, NWS said a decision to develop a GDF would be taken only if the "potential host community has had a say and given consent through a Test of Public Support. The GDF requires both a suitable site and a willing community".

The UK has used nuclear technology for more than 60 years - for power generation, industry, medicine and defence. These activities have created radioactive waste which needs to be managed safely. This waste is currently stored at more than 30 surface facilities across the UK, which have to be replaced every 50-100 years.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News