Waste solution a UK priority

30 June 2011

The UK is looking for ways to speed up its radioactive waste disposal program, hoping to have an underground facility in operation by 2029. 


This week, energy minister Charles Hendry revealed the first annual report from the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely program, which actually began some ten years ago after the collapse of a former scheme in the 1990s. All options have been considered in the intervening period, ending with a firm commitment to pursue geologic disposal for high- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes.


The process towards this goal is planned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in partnership with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which has the job of dismantling old state-owned nuclear facilities. The NDA has set up a Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) to develop the disposal plans and evolve into the entity that builds and operates it.


The current planned date of 2040 for the entry into service of an underground waste disposal facility is based on the time it has taken other countries to select the proper site and technology to permanently dispose of the most dangerous nuclear waste. Sweden has taken 31 years, while France has taken 32 and Finland, 37. However, Hendry has asked the NDA to "look at opportunities for accelerating progress."


The NDA welcomed the suggestion, noting that the voluntary participation of communities would put a practical limit on the acceleration it could achieve. "However, we will look at ways to increase resources allocated to the program, undertake more work in parallel and transfer technology from more advanced programs overseas," said the managing director of the RWMD, Bruce McKirdy.


Generic geologic disposal concept
Underground disposal making use of stable rock formations is the
internationally accepted method for permanent disposal of high-level
radioactive waste


Government has invited communities to come forward and express an interest in hosting the national disposal facility, with three expressions received so far, representing two areas of Cumbria: Allerdale and Copeland. An initial study of each has shown neither area to have an obvious and documented geologic feature that would immediately rule them out.


Progress from here depends on the continued participation of Allerdale and Copeland, which have the right to withdraw at any time. The next steps would be: a geologic study lasting four years; surface research lasting ten years; and finally a 15-year period of underground research, construction and commissioning. It is in those steps that the NDA will seek to find an 11-year saving to see the first package of waste put in place by the end of 2029.


This is the newest milestone in the UK's nuclear future. It is well known that all but one of its current reactors will close by 2023, while private enterprise is preparing to build up to 19 GWe of new capacity by about 2025.  


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News