Guidance

Geological Disposal

A permanent solution for the UK's higher-activity radioactive waste

Nuclear technology has been a part of our lives for over 60 years and is used in power generation, industry, medicine and defence. Today, nuclear energy provides almost a fifth of the UK’s electricity. These activities have created radioactive waste which we need to manage safely for the long term.

With a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), higher-activity waste will be put hundreds of metres deep underground. A GDF is internationally recognised as the safest long-term solution for this type of waste; having one in the UK will create jobs and guaranteed investment for the host community.

The UK’s nuclear history

A long-term solution A short introductory film, narrated by nuclear waste disposal expert Dr Claire Corkhill.

Find out more about our pioneering past and today’s mission

Why underground?

A GDF

Discover why a GDF is the safest solution

Communities and GDF

Working together

Find out how communities will have a say

About National Geological Screening (NGS)

Types of rock

Find out about the rocks beneath your area

Essential facts about GDF

What is a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF)?

Geological disposal involves isolating radioactive waste deep underground, inside a suitable rock volume to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment. A GDF will be a highly engineered structure consisting of multiple barriers that will provide protection over hundreds of thousands of years.

Has any region been selected for a GDF?

At this stage, no host site for a GDF has been identified and discussions are happening with communities around England and Wales. A Working Group has been formed in Copeland Borough to start exploring whether a GDF is right for Copeland and whether Copeland is the right area for a GDF. This will be a consent-based, partnership approach, with Right of Withdrawal by the community right up to a Test of Public Support.

What is radioactive waste and where does it come from?

Radioactive waste is radioactive material for which we have no further use. Most comes from the generation of electricity using nuclear power but it is also a by-product of many medical and industrial processes, research and defence activities that make use of radioactivity and radioactive materials.

What waste is destined for geological disposal?

A GDF will take higher activity waste. This consists of High Level Waste, Intermediate Level Waste and a small amount of Low Level Waste which is not suitable for disposal at existing surface facilities. For planning purposes, we consider wastes from existing uses of radioactive materials, as well as wastes that would be generated from new nuclear power stations. We also include various nuclear materials in our planning that are not currently classified as waste, since these would need to be managed through geological disposal if it were decided at some point that they had no further use.

Where is the waste now?

Radioactive wastes that will be disposed of in a GDF are currently being packaged in specially engineered containers and stored at over 20 nuclear sites around the country. The stores are designed to withstand severe weather and earthquakes.

Why can’t we leave the waste where it is?

Surface stores, whilst designed to be safe for around 100 years, don’t provide a permanent solution. They need to be continually monitored to keep the waste secure and periodically refurbished to prevent the waste from being exposed to the effects of the weather. Eventually, they will need to be replaced, or the waste moved elsewhere. Surface storage is therefore less safe than geological disposal for the long term, and would end up being much more labour intensive and costly in the long run.

When will a GDF be built, and by whom?

Construction will only start when a suitable site is identified, all the necessary consents and permits have been obtained and the host community has indicated its willingness to host the facility through a Test of Public Support. For planning purposes, we assume that a GDF will be available to receive the first waste in the 2040s. Filling a GDF with waste and then closing it, once full, will then run into the next century.

Government has asked RWM to plan for, and build, a GDF. We will appoint contractors who have the necessary specialist skills to support us in our work.

Where can local communities find the information they need?

RWM has published all of the information needed to understand a GDF, including the opportunities this major infrastructure could bring. A new website is being created for communities, containing brochures and videos which explain what a GDF is, what makes it safe and why it could be sited in a region. There are also ways to raise your questions directly with RWM.

If you have any questions, please contact us here

You can find more community resources and information here

Published 3 November 2020