A Geological Disposal Facility, or GDF, is an underground facility designed to safely and securely dispose of our radioactive waste – specifically ‘higher-activity’ waste (the most radioactive kind).
It involves building a series of specially designed and engineered vaults and tunnels deep underground. It could potentially be three times deeper than the height of the Shard in London, Britain’s tallest building.
Once the waste is placed inside a GDF, the facility is permanently sealed. The way the facility is designed and engineered means it can keep protecting people and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years, without needing any maintenance, while the radioactivity fades away naturally.
Scientists and other authorities all over the world agree that geological disposal is the safest way to deal with ‘higher-activity’ radioactive waste (the most radioactive kind) for the long term. This international consensus comes after decades of scientific research.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency, the UK’s independent nuclear regulators, will review the designs for a GDF, the proposed site, and the science that informs them, to make sure it protects people and the environment. A GDF will only be built if it can meet these criteria.
The Government’s policy, Implementing Geological Disposal – Working with Communities, is clear that, before NWS seeks regulatory approval or development consent to begin construction of a GDF, there must be a Test of Public Support to determine whether the Potential Host Community is willing to host a GDF. If the result of the Test of Public Support is in support, the developer may then make the statutory regulatory and development consent applications required to build a GDF at the selected site. If the result is against, a GDF will not be built at this location.
The community can withdraw from the siting process at any point up until a Test of Public Support is taken. The decision on whether to withdraw will be taken by the relevant principal local authorities on the Community Partnership; in the case of Mid Copeland, this is Cumberland Council. NWS can also choose to withdraw from the process. For example, there may be technical reasons which demonstrate that there is no longer the prospect of finding a suitable site within the Search Area.
A Working Group was formed early in the GDF siting process to begin local discussions and fact-finding with the community.
The Working Group identified and proposed a Search Area. It comprised the four interested parties who originally raised an interest in the siting process: Copeland Borough Council, Irton Hall Ltd, GenR8 North Ltd and David Faulkner; as well as the GDF developer, an independent facilitator and an independent chair.
A Community Partnership is a group each made up of members including the GDF developer, the local authority and community members. A Community Partnership’s role includes ensuring the community has the relevant information they need when considering the possibility of hosting a GDF. An outline of the full role and key responsibilities of a Community Partnership can be found from page 45 in the Implementing geological disposal – working with communities policy. Further information on Mid Copeland GDF Community Partnership’s membership can be found here.
A GDF cannot be sited in any community which does not consent to it. If proposals to site a GDF in your community are taken forward by Community Partnership, you will be able to communicate your views on the proposals by:
Further on in the siting process, a Community Partnership will need to provide demonstrable evidence that its respective community supports the siting of a GDF in its area, via a Test of Public Support.
Yes. Finland has chosen a site where it plans to build a GDF, with the support of the local community there.
Posiva Oy, the Finnish version of NWS, chose Olkiluoto island as the site for their GDF in 2000. The majority of the local community was in favour of the project then, and support has actually grown as the project has developed.
SKB, the Swedish version of NWS, developed a consent-based approach before the UK. They committed to walk away from any community that did not support having a GDF built nearby. That helped communities to trust them and get involved in the conversation with confidence.
Read the latest update as Östhammar agrees to host a GDF, here.
Now that a Community Partnership has been formed in Mid Copeland, it will provide a vehicle for sharing information and for finding answers to the questions you might have about geological disposal, the siting process and how we, as a community, could benefit.
A series of local studies will be undertaken to assess which areas might be suitable to site a GDF. Once identified, boreholes would be drilled to examine the local geology and see if it may be suitable for a GDF.
Only once all studies have been conducted, and a community has given its consent, would the construction of the GDF begin. The process to identify and select a site for a GDF requires detailed technical work that could take up to 15 years.
A GDF has to be built deep underground, in solid rock. The rock, along with engineered barriers, play an important part in keeping people and the environment safe while the waste naturally becomes less radioactive. A Search Area in Mid Copeland has been identified which the GDF developer will now investigate as part of a Community Partnership which has now formed.
This Community Partnership is for the Mid Copeland Search Area – which includes the electoral ward of Gosforth.
No areas which fall within the Lake District National Park or 2019 extension proposal will be considered to host a GDF.
No areas which fall within current or future coal mines will be considered to host a GDF.
The Copeland GDF Working Group recommended that the investigation initially focuses on the deep geology within the inshore area up to 22km beyond the coast.
The surveys involve putting scientific instruments/equipment in the sea. This requires a marine licence – unless an exemption applies.
Government legislation set the conditions for an exemption.
The planned geophysical surveys meet all the conditions for an exemption and the GDF developer has notified the MMO, as required, about its intention to rely on the exemption.
In coming to this conclusion, the GDF Developer has consulted:
All are satisfied that all environmental and navigation requirements and obligations have already been met and impacts are minimal.
The ‘exemption’ Marine Licensing exempted activities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
In the UK, we’ve benefited from nuclear technology for many decades. We’ve used nuclear technology to power our homes, radioactive isotopes to diagnose and treat serious illnesses, and to drive industry for over 60 years. As a result, we’ve produced various different types of radioactive waste, including ‘higher-activity’ waste (the most radioactive kind).
West Cumbria is already home to Europe’s largest nuclear site at Sellafield which dates back to the late 1940s. In the early years of its operation, the focus was on producing material for the UK’s nuclear defence programme before the switch to generating electricity. More recently the site was used to reprocess spent fuel from the UK’s fleet of nuclear power stations; collectively this activity has created a legacy of radioactive waste and spent fuel that is still being stored onsite in surface facilities today.
Although radioactive waste is stored at other nuclear facilities around the country, the bulk of our radioactive waste is already at Sellafield. Its range of purpose-built stores were designed to keep this waste safe and secure for many decades. Nevertheless, these facilities require constant maintenance and monitoring while the radioactivity naturally decays. For some of the waste this will take many thousands of years, so even if well maintained, these surface stores will be vulnerable to natural and human events such as rising sea levels and even the next ice age.
A geological disposal facility (GDF) built up to 1,000 metres in the rock deep underground will contain the waste safely and isolate it from glaciation or future human intervention, until the radioactivity naturally decays and no longer poses a hazard to people or the environment. In essence, a GDF removes any requirement for our descendants to take perpetual care of today’s hazardous legacy. And of course, if a GDF ends up being built in West Cumbria this would also remove much of the requirement to transport radioactive waste over long distances.
There are absolutely no plans to consider existing or future coal mines for the geological disposal of radioactive waste, because they are simply not suitable.
Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) is responsible for developing a deep GDF in the UK, where higher-activity radioactive waste will be disposed of, based on consent from a willing community together with a suitable site.
A GDF will be a purpose-built, highly engineered facility designed specifically for radioactive waste. NWS will assess the suitability of any potential GDF location in a comprehensive evaluation process. The design and safety features must meet the stringent requirements of independent UK nuclear and environmental regulators. A coal mine would not meet these requirements.
Surveys took place off the coast of Mid and South Copeland for around three-four weeks between July and August 2022 to deepen understanding about the nature of the deep rocks beyond the coast. This is part of the work required within the siting process for the underground elements of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).
Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) was formed in January 2022 and specialises in managing, treating, and safely disposing of UK radioactive waste. The formation of NWS has not changed the commitment to deliver the GDF programme
NWS is part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) group and brings together the expertise of site operator LLW Repository Limited (LLWR), which manages the low level waste site in Cumbria and associated operations, Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM), which is responsible for delivering the Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) Programme, as well as the NDA’s Integrated Waste Management Programme (IWMP).
In practice, the work of LLWR (part of the NWS Waste Services and Operations line of business) and the GDF programme (part of the NWS Major Capital Programmes line of business) is delivered separately.
Stakeholders and communities engaging with either LLWR or GDF teams day-to-day should not see any substantive changes compared to ways of working before the formation of NWS.