U.K. to begin new search for a geological repository

June 29, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
Concept art showing a geological disposal facility with tunnels and vaults in deep underground rock, under the seabed. (Image: NWS)

Nuclear Waste Services, the United Kingdom’s radioactive waste management organization, launched in January 2022, has begun a wide range of studies to evaluate sites that could be suitable to host a geological disposal facility (GDF).

Initially, NWS experts and industry specialists will evaluate community partnership areas through nonintrusive activities, such as geophysical surveys and desk-based studies of existing data on things like the local geology, transport infrastructure, and local power supply.

The organization said it has already formed four community partnerships and studies will focus on those areas: Allerdale, South Copeland, and Mid Copeland in Cumbria in northwest England; and in Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire in eastern England.

“This work signifies progress in the GDF siting process,” said Malcolm Orford, NWS program lead. “We are now assessing a range of information to help build our confidence about whether the current locations engaged in the process could host a GDF.”

The studies: The studies will be conducted over several years to help ensure a GDF can be constructed, operated, and closed safely and securely. Each potential location will be assessed against a number of siting factors, including safety and security, community, environment, engineering feasibility, transport, geology, and value for money.

Contractors specializing in data gathering, optioneering and design, assessment, and evaluation will help support the studies. NWS said it has awarded a five-year site evaluation service contract to an unnamed company for a comprehensive range of site evaluation services.

Next steps: Following the area studies, more detailed investigative work will be conducted for communities that progress to the later steps in the process, including the drilling of boreholes to understand more about the geology of potential repository sites.

According to NWS, the process of selecting a suitable site could take 10–15 years. As the U.K.’s GDF program requires both a suitable site and a willing community, a decision to develop a disposal facility cannot be made until the potential host community has had a say and given consent through a test of public support.

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