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Frequently asked questions

If you can’t find the answer to your question on this site, get in touch by coming to an event or by contacting us.

What is a GDF?

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.

Is it safe?

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.

How much of a say does my community have over whether a GDF is built here?

Unlike other big infrastructure projects, the process of choosing a site for a GDF requires the explicit consent of a willing community.

Forming the GDF Community Partnership is not a commitment to agree to a GDF in Copeland. Neither is surveying potential sites or planning how the community could potentially benefit from the project. We can withdraw from the process at any time, for any reason.

What is a Working Group?

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 RWM, an independent facilitator and an independent chair.

What is a Community Partnership?

The Mid Copeland Community Partnership is a larger, enduring group of people that has taken over from the Working Group and will consider the possibilities of local GDF siting in more detail, including further public engagement and creating a “Community Vision” for the long-term well-being of the community.

Formation of a Community Partnership requires the participation of RWM and at least one relevant Principal Local Authority for the area being considered. The Relevant Principal Local Authorities on the Community Partnership can agree to withdraw communities from the GDF siting process at any time.

The formation of a Community Partnership signifies the start of Community Investment Funding in the area. An initial sum of £1m per year has been made available, which could be used to fund projects, schemes and initiatives to drive the economic development of the area, improve the local environment, or the community’s wellbeing.

Community Investment Funding would rise to £2.5m per year if deep borehole investigations take place to assess geological suitability within the Search Area.

How can I have my say in the GDF siting process?

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:

  • Responding to online consultations
  • Attending community and virtual events about the GDF
  • Communicating your concerns directly to a Community Partnership

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.

Has any community ever consented to host a GDF?

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 RWM, 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 RWM, 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.

What is the process for siting a GDF?

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.

What area of Mid Copeland is being considered for a GDF?

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 Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) 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 wards of Gosforth & Seascale and Beckermet.

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 RWM’s investigation initially focuses on the deep geology within the inshore area up to 22km beyond the coast.

Why is there radioactive waste in the 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).

Where is radioactive waste currently stored?

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.

Is there a connection between any potential for a GDF in Cumbria and plans for a deep coal mine in Whitehaven?

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.

Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) 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. RWM 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.