Guidance

Sub-surface unsuitability screening

Find out about geological screening, nuclear facility siting, exclusion criteria, reviewing, groundwater, NIREX and radiation risk.

Geological screening

Decisions about facility siting

No decisions have been taken on the siting of any facility. Our driver is a voluntarism/partnership approach with potential host communities, and the first step in the process is an expression of interest from potential host communities. This will be carried out, from the very beginning, in an open, transparent way in partnership with communities, stakeholders and experts

The geological screening study

The sub surface unsuitability test or geological screening is a ‘desk-based study’ only. This means that it only uses currently available information. It uses high level geological criteria, does not involve new field investigation and there has been no consideration of non-geological factors.

It has been undertaken by the British Geological Survey and does not identify sites that could definitely host a facility but rules out areas that could not host the underground workings of a geological disposal facility for obvious geological reasons. It is solely to provide an initial ‘first cut’, to remove obviously unsuitable geology from further consideration.

This work will not show where a facility would eventually be located. This is an early stage in the process and further, increasingly detailed assessments, applying more localised geological and other criteria will only be made IF a community decides to participate further.

Reasons for the geological screening

To exclude from further consideration areas which would be clearly unsuitable to host the underground workings of a geological disposal facility. This is intended to prevent communities participating in discussions and deliberations in relation to an area which obviously has no suitable geology and to avoid unnecessary expenditure from Government and effort by communities in such a case.

How the geological screening is done

It was a ‘desk-based study’ only. This means that it only used currently available information. It used high level geological criteria, did not involve new field investigation and there was no consideration of non-geological factors. It was solely to provide an initial ‘first cut’, to remove obviously unsuitable geology from further consideration.

Geological maps, papers and other relevant documents were used to determine whether any part of the area met one of a number of exclusionary criteria identified in the White Paper ‘Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: A framework for implementation’. Areas meeting one or more of those exclusionary criteria are excluded.

Who conducted the geological screening

The British Geological Survey (BGS). The screening was led by BGS’s Chief Geologist England and carried out by a team of experienced geoscientists. It used high level geological criteria, did not involve new field investigation and there was no consideration of non-geological factors. It was solely to provide an initial ‘first cut’, to remove obviously unsuitable geology from further consideration.

Their work was reviewed by peer reviewers appointed by the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) Partnership as well as reviewed by the Environment Agency and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Area screening

The sub surface unsuitability test was applied to the whole of Allerdale and Copeland as well as the area up to 5 km offshore.

The screening does not consider the suitability of any other areas but does consider implications of neighbouring geology on the suitability of land in Copeland and Allerdale.

If an area is screened out

Based on one or more of the screening criteria, that area should be excluded from any further consideration for an underground geological disposal facility. It does not affect where the surface facility could be located as that could be a number of kilometres from an underground facility and could therefore be located in an area that is found to be unsuitable for the actual underground facility.

If an area is not screened out

This work does not show where a facility would eventually be located. It is simply intended to avoid unnecessary work in areas which are clearly unsuitable on geological grounds. It does not prove the suitability of any area or show where a facility would eventually be located.

The process is at an early stage and only if a community makes a decision to participate further in the process will increasingly detailed assessments of geological suitability, as well as assessments based on other criteria, be undertaken.

Deciding whether an area is suitable or unsuitable

We must make sure that any site proposed is suitable, both geologically and in terms of the wider environmental and social impacts a facility would have. This will be established over many years.

The BGS high-level screening out is the beginning, a very early ‘first cut’ to eliminate from the process any areas that are obviously geologically unsuitable.

For areas that then make a Decision to Participate, rigorous technical and scientific assessment of the suitability of any prospective site will be absolutely crucial. At each stage increasingly detailed assessments will be made of potential sites, with resources becoming focussed on investigating those that are most likely to be suitable.

Criteria

Criteria used to exclude areas

The exclusion criteria were derived by two independent expert groups. They are high level and largely based around 2 key issues:

  • the need to exclude areas in order to reduce the risk of intrusion into a facility by future generations seeking to extract resources
  • the need to protect the quality of exploitable groundwater

The exclusionary criteria are set out in Annex B of the ‘Managing radioactive Waste Safely A Framework for Implementing geological disposal’ white paper published in June 2008:

  • presence of coal at depths beyond 100 metres
  • presence of oil and gas
  • presence of oil shales
  • where waste disposal or gas storage is already committed or approved at depths beyond 100 m
  • presence of some metal ores where mined at depths beyond 100 m
  • aquifers
  • shallow permeable formations
  • specific complex hydro-geological disposal facilities

These criteria are described more fully in the white paper (and below).

  To be applied as exclusion criteria? Reasons/explanations and qualifying comments
Natural resources    
Coal Yes Intrusion risk to depth, only when resource at >100 m depth
Oil and gas Yes Intrusion risk to depth, for known oil and gas fields
Oil shales Yes Intrusion risk to depth
Metal ores Some ores Intrusion risk only where mined at depths of >100 m
Disposal of wastes/gas storage Yes Only where already committed or approved at >100 m depth
Groundwater    
Aquifers Yes Where all or part of the geological disposal facility host rock is located within the aquifer
Shallow permeable formations Yes Where all or part of the geological disposal facility host rock would be provided by permeable formations that might reasonably be exploited in the future
Specific complex hydrogeological environments Yes Deep karstic formations and known source rocks for thermal springs

 How criteria were identified

Two independent expert groups, each comprising of scientists with relevant experience were established. Membership represented a high calibre mix of academic and industrial practitioners:

  • a Criteria Proposals Group (CPG) to recommend a suitable set of screening criteria
  • a Criteria Review Panel (CRP) to peer review the proposed criteria and ensure that they are workable

The criteria they proposed were applicable to any community in the UK, and were consulted on in the MRWS consultation and the Chairs of the two groups, Professor Peter Styles and Professor Howard Wheater, were asked to review their advice in light of the consultation responses.

They concluded that the criteria they recommended should stand and that further criteria are unnecessary at this initial stage. They did take the opportunity to make clearer the wording of a few parts of their summary advice and provided a definition of what they meant by shallow permeable formations.

The updated sub-surface screening criteria are available at Annex B of the White Paper.

Who chose the CPG/CRP

The two groups were recruited by the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme sponsor bodies (UK Government, devolved administrations of Wales and NI) following discussion with, and nominations by, the learned societies: the Royal Society, the Geological Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor was involved and the scientific disciplines sought were geology, hydrogeology and rock mechanics. Membership represented a high calibre mix of academic and industrial practitioners.

A member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) participated in the Criteria Proposal Group’s work and a technical specialist from the Environment Agency also served on Criteria Review Panel.

Why the presence of faults or geological movements is not an exclusionary criteria

Following careful consideration, the expert groups that derived and reviewed the criteria considered that any potential impact as a result of geological instability should be considered as part of the site specific risk assessments that will be needed later in the site selection process.

This is based on their initial advice that the potential for seismic effects to occur in the UK is low by global standards and the fact that these are issues that can only be properly considered later in the process at a site specific level when more in-depth investigations can take place on the details of a particular site.

Why we have only used these criteria to exclude areas

The two independent expert groups that derived and reviewed the criteria considered the case for and against a number of other geological exclusion criteria such as risk of earthquakes, geological faults, specific complex geological environments, erosion, etc.

Following detailed consideration, the two expert groups concluded that these characteristics, although absolutely crucial in the investigation and assessment for a geological disposal facility, can only be properly considered later in the process at a site specific level when more in-depth investigations can take place on the details of a particular site.

These assessments will be undertaken at future stages of the site selection process if a community decides to participate further in the site selection process.

Why above ground criteria are not considered

Above ground criteria are absolutely crucial in the investigation and assessment for a geological disposal facility. However BGS screening is an early stage in this process and undertaken specifically to exclude areas from further consideration which are clearly unsuitable to host the underground workings of a geological disposal facility.

If a community makes a decision to participate further in the process then increasingly detailed assessments of geological suitability as well as assessments based on above ground criteria such as potential impact on natural environment and landscape, impact on people, transport and infrastructure, costs etc would all need to be undertaken.

Roles

Roles of the peer reviewers

The draft BGS report was made available for peer review to the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership, the NDA, the regulators (Environmental Agency (EA)) and the CoRWM before completion and publication in its final form. CoRWM chose not to peer review the document but will comment later on the screening process more generally as part of their ongoing scrutiny of the implementation of geological disposal.

West Cumbria MRWS Partnership’s role in this process

The West Cumbria MRWS Partnership agreed that the Department of Energy and Climate Change could initiate this work in May following their initial round of public and stakeholder engagement. The Partnership are not directly involved in the screening itself although they appointed independent expert peer reviewers to peer review the report prior to its publication (the cost of which will be met by Government along with other agreed partnership costs).

DECC’s role in the process

DECC commissioned the British Geological Survey to undertake the geological screening but were not directly involved in doing the screening.

As commissioning body, DECC commented on the draft report in terms of presentation and on it meeting the requirements set out in the MRWS White Paper, as well as assisting with the factual background content

NDA’s role in the process

The NDA were not directly involved in the screening itself. As set out in the MRWS White Paper, NDA peer reviewed the draft report prior to its publication in light of their technical expertise in radioactive waste management and geological disposal.

The Regulators’ role in the process

The regulators were not directly involved in the screening itself. As indicated in the MRWS White Paper, the Environment Agency, as the environmental regulator, reviewed the draft report prior to its publication and provided additional information on groundwater.

CoRWM’s role in the process

CoRWM were not directly involved in the screening itself. CoRWM chose not to peer review the document but will comment on the screening process more generally as part of their ongoing scrutiny of the implementation of geological disposal.

Why ‘Host Communities’ get a chance to comment as set out in the White Paper

The MRWS White Paper identifies 3 types of community - Host Community, Decision Making Body and Wider Local Interests. The Decision Making Bodies of Allerdale, Copeland and Cumbria Councils have expressed an interest for a wide area (Allerdale and Copeland) and as no candidate sites have been identified there are no specific Host Communities as defined in the White Paper at this stage. Involvement in the siting process is being explored by the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership which represents all local interests and as such was the appropriate body to review the report.

Comments

Generally most of the peer reviewers came up with a similar range of comments. These ranged from the presentational - to ensure that the report or its non technical summary would be understandable to the non-geologist - to specific comments on the interpretation of the exclusion criteria to ensure that the final report was consistent with the criteria set out in the MRWS White Paper.

Process

Involvement of new geological surveys in the screening

The screening did not involve any new geological surveys. It was a ‘desk-based study’ only. This means that it only used currently available information. It used high level geological criteria, did not involve new field investigation and there was no consideration of non-geological factors. It was solely to provide an initial ‘first cut’, to remove any obviously unsuitable geology from further consideration.

Screening in other areas

No other areas have been screened. The approach to geological disposal in the UK is based on voluntarism and partnership with local communities. Geological Screening only takes place after an expression of interest has been received by Government and only covers the areas included in those expressions of interest.

While the opportunity for others to express an interest remains open the expressions received to date relate to Copeland and Allerdale.

Why the whole country is not screened first, followed by volunteers.

As set out in the MRWS White Paper, our approach to looking for a site for a geological disposal facility starts by seeking communities who volunteer to talk to us (without commitment) about the possibility of hosting a facility. Therefore it would not be appropriate to start by screening the whole country.

Why the screening is done by the British Geological survey

The BGS is the UK’s premier centre for earth science information and expertise and as such provides expert services and impartial advice in all areas of geosciences.

The British Geological survey

As a public sector organisation British Geological Survey (BGS), a component research institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is responsible for advising the UK government on all aspects of geosciences as well as providing impartial geological advice to industry, academia and the public. They provide expert services and impartial advice in all areas of geosciences to the public and private sectors both in the UK and internationally. Founded in 1835, the BGS is the world’s oldest national geological survey and the United Kingdom’s premier centre for earth science information and expertise.

Who paid for the geological screening

DECC.

Who paid for the peer review

The cost of the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership peer review and the rest of the Partnership’s costs are met through an engagement packaged provided by DECC.

Screening team

The BGS Sub-Surface Screening team comprised experts with appropriate experience on the geology of West Cumbria, working independently from BGS’s Radioactive Waste Team.

The study team comprised Dr John Powell, Chief Geologist England, Dr Colin Waters (Carboniferous geology expert), Dr Dave Millward (Lake District geology expert) and Dr Nick Robins (hydrogeology expert). None of the study team was involved in determining, or advising on, the sub-surface exclusion criteria set out in the White Paper.

Publication of the report

The Partnership decided to postpone September’s meeting to ensure certainty about the level of Government funding before pressing ahead with further local engagement which uses the results of this report. We therefore decided to postpone the launch of the BGS report until now.

This delay was not related to the BGS report other than the fact that the planned next stage of public engagement included consideration of the report.

Changes to the BGS report after the delay

Given that the report’s publication was postponed, peer reviewers and the BGS took the opportunity to continue to comment on and update the drafting of the report to ensure that it would be as clear as possible for non-geologists.

Groundwater

Excluding areas around an aquifer rather than just parts of the rock

The exclusion criteria were derived and reviewed by two independent expert groups to provide an initial first cut, solely to remove any obviously unsuitable geology from further consideration.

The expert groups that derived the criteria concluded that in order to protect water supplies, a geological disposal facility should not be located within an aquifer (a permeable rock formation) which is less than 500 m below the surface. However, a facility could potentially be safely located in the geological column in proximity to (laterally or below) an aquifer provided the facility could be satisfactorily isolated from the water supply by its combined engineered design and the containment properties of the intervening strata.

Although absolutely crucial in the investigation and assessment for a geological disposal facility, this kind of isolation can only be properly considered later in the process (if a community decides to continue) at a site specific level when more in-depth investigations can take place on the details of a particular site.

A geological disposal facility will not be built in any area that is unsuitable. A facility would have to meet the demanding safety case requirements of the independent safety and environmental regulators.

Definition of aquifer used in this study

Aquifer is defined in this study as permeable formations that are exploited for groundwater use. In accordance with the relevant criterion derived by the expert groups to provide an initial first cut.

The Water Framework Directive’s definition is a subsurface layer or layers of rock or other geological strata of sufficient porosity and permeability to allow either a significant flow of groundwater or the abstraction of significant quantities of groundwater (ie, not just including those strata that are currently used for groundwater abstraction).

This would be relevant to more detailed considerations during subsequent stages of the MRWS process. The Environment Agency has a statutory role for the protection of groundwater and, during those stages, would want to understand any proposal to locate a geological disposal facility in a permeable formation and would expect to see an assessment of any potential linkage between the deep and near-surface groundwater environments.

Risk of radiation to water

A geological disposal facility could potentially be safely located in the geological column in proximity to (laterally or below) an aquifer provided the facility could be satisfactorily isolated from the water supply by its combined engineered design and the containment properties of the intervening strata.

This kind of isolation can only be properly investigated and assessed later in the process (if a community decides to continue) at a site specific level when more in-depth investigations can take place on the details of a particular site.

A geological disposal facility will not be built in any area that is unsuitable. A facility would have to meet the demanding safety case requirements of the independent safety and environmental regulators.

Placing a repository in saline water and risk of radiation

One of the key issues for the experts that derived the exclusion criteria was the need to protect the quality of exploitable groundwater. Deep permeable formations (i.e., more than 500 metres in depth) are typically saline and have little or no potential for exploitation as water sources because of their poor quality. They were therefore not classed as exclusion criteria at this early stage. The presence of saline water per se does not make it unsafe for the geology to be used as a host rock for a geological disposal facility.

Issues such as radiation movement, although absolutely crucial in the investigation and assessment for a geological disposal facility, can only be properly considered later in the process (if a community decides to continue) at a site specific level when more in-depth investigations can take place on the details of a particular site.

A geological disposal facility will not be built in any area that is unsuitable. A facility would have to meet the demanding safety case requirements of the independent safety and environmental regulators.

If there is any uncertainty siting a facility near underground water wouldn’t it make sense to concentrate on areas that are more likely to be suitable rather than potentially wasting resources carrying out tests in these areas?

This stage of the process is intended simply to rule out sites that could not host a facility for obvious geological reasons in order to avoid unnecessary effort by communities and Government if there was no geology within the area worth considering further. It is not to start the site selection process itself and it does not comment on the relatively suitability of those areas which are not excluded. The report has identified excluded rock volumes that could be used to guide subsequent studies.

It would be wrong for this stage in the process to screen out areas which may be suitable without considering the full range of geological and other criteria. Detailed geology and other criteria will be fully assessed as part of the site selection process IF communities decide to participate in the siting process.

At each stage of the process increasingly detailed assessments will be made of potential sites, with resources focused on investigating those that are most likely to be suitable and further desk based studies would be undertaken before additional intrusive geological investigation takes place.

Risk of tunnel going through the excluded sandstone

A geological disposal facility will not be built in any area that is unsuitable and it would have to meet the demanding safety case requirements of the independent safety and environmental regulators. NDA’s delivery organisation will need to provide evidence that any tunnel through sandstone would not be detrimental to the safety case.

Techniques for driving tunnels through water bearing sandstones are well developed and have been used widely in the tunneling industry. A variety of techniques can be used to control inflow during the tunnel extraction phase, for example forward grouting, ground freezing systems in certain circumstances, and even the use of compressed air working methods to overcome ground water inflow pressure.

During excavation the tunnel has to be sequentially lined, in wet conditions this is normally done with segmental lining of a material suited to the ground water conditions and then back grouted (behind the lining) at a pressure greater than the hydrostatic external pressure acting on the lining.

Well before a decision is made to close the geological disposal facility, NDA’s delivery organisation will need to provide the regulators with sound evidence about the effective backfilling of vaults and deposition tunnels, and high quality sealing of the deposition vaults and tunnels to retard any release of radionuclides.

NIREX

West Cumbria’s geological suitability following the NIREX process

The Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive (NIREX) did not look in detail at the whole of West Cumbria. In 1994, after carrying out initial geological testing, NIREX sought planning permission from Cumbria County Council to construct an underground rock characterisation facility at a site near Sellafield to enable more detailed investigations to take place in that area. This application was rejected by Cumbria County Council and the then Secretary of State. However, the fact that this planning application was rejected does not mean that the geology of the Copeland and Allerdale, or even this particular area, cannot safely host a geological disposal facility.

There were a number of reasons why the NIREX planning application and the subsequent appeal were rejected. These included the technical and scientific uncertainties and deficiencies in NIREX’s application as well as the siting process used by NIREX. However, we do not believe the outcome of the work by NIREX means that the area near Sellafield considered by NIREX should be excluded from the screening process or treated differently from any other part of the UK which is subject to an expression of interest at this stage.

Should a decision to participate be taken the geological suitability of any candidate site would need to be demonstrated at later stages in the process. The UK’s independent safety and environmental regulators would also have to be satisfied that a disposal facility was safe before they would permit it to be operated.

Conclusions around the repository’s unsuitability

This stage of the process is intended simply to rule out sites that could not host a facility for obvious geological reasons in order to avoid unnecessary effort by communities and Government if there was no geology within the area worth considering further. It is based on applying high level geological exclusion criteria to identify areas which are clearly unsuitable. It does not prove the suitability of any area which is not excluded.

Should a decision to participate be taken, the geological suitability of any candidate site would need to be demonstrated at later stages in the process. At each stage of the process increasingly detailed assessments will be made of potential sites, with resources focused on investigating those that are most likely to be suitable.

The UK’s independent safety and environmental regulators would also have to be satisfied that a disposal facility was safe before they would permit it to be operated.

The fact that the NIREX planning application for a rock characterization facility near Sellafield was rejected does not mean that the whole of geology of the Copeland and Allerdale, or even the area around Sellafield, cannot safely host a geological disposal facility but neither does the screening process prove the suitability of any area, including the area near Sellafield. NIREX did not submit an application or supporting safety case for disposal of radioactive waste near Sellafield to the Environment Agency or to its predecessor body, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP).

There were a range of reasons why the NIREX planning application and the subsequent appeal were rejected. These included the technical and scientific uncertainties and deficiencies in NIREX’s application as well as the siting process used by NIREX. However, we do not believe the outcome of the work by NIREX means that the area around Sellafield should be excluded from the screening process or treated differently from any other part of the UK which is subject to an expression of interest at this stage.

Why the area around Sellafield is the focus, instead of areas that are more likely to be geologically suitable

The fact that the NIREX planning application for a rock characterisation facility near Sellafield was rejected does not mean that the whole of geology of the Copeland and Allerdale, or even the area around Sellafield, cannot safely host a geological disposal facility.

At each stage of the process increasingly detailed assessments will be made of potential sites, with resources focused on investigating those that are most likely to be suitable. This necessarily includes geological suitability but also having a suitably interested community as well as assessments based on other criteria such as potential impact on natural environment and landscape, impact on people, transport and infrastructure, costs etc

 Longlands Farm site

The total area is not excluded by the criteria. Although some rock volumes are screened out as aquifers or shallow permeable formations, other rock volumes at depth, potentially accessible from this site are not excluded.

At this early stage, areas not excluded by the BGS report are all of the same standing and would remain so until after any decision to participate. If a community makes a decision to participate further in the process when increasingly detailed assessments of geological suitability as well as assessments based on other criteria such as potential impact on natural environment and landscape, impact on people, transport and infrastructure, costs etc would all need to be undertaken.

How the NIREX appeal determined the geology of West Cumbria unsuitability for geological disposal

It considered NIREX’s appeal against the rejection of planning consent for a rock characterisation facility at a specific site near Sellafield. It did not consider the suitability of the whole of West Cumbria to host a geological disposal facility. Therefore the geology of Copeland and Allerdale will be considered through the same process which would apply to any area which made an expression of interest.

Suitability of Cumbria’s geology for geological disposal

Determining definitely the suitability of the geology of any site requires detailed geological and safety assessment as well as detailed geological characterisation which has not been done. Given this we do not believe it is possible to objectively conclude there are no potentially suitable sites in the whole of Allerdale and Copeland.

BGS have applied the exclusion criteria identified by two independent expert groups across Copleand and Allerdale as they would in any area making an expression of interest and there remain significant areas which have not been excluded. Therefore we see no reason the Partnership cannot continue to consider whether or not to participate in the site selection process. Further, increasingly detailed, assessments applying more localised geological and other criteria will only be made if a community decides to participate further.

National Park

Distance from the Park and potential impact

In 1997, the then Secretary of State rejected the NIREX proposals in part because of the impact on the natural beauty of the National Park caused by the surface elements of the proposed Rock Characterisation Facility. Cumbria County Council had refused planning consent saying that “the application site is located close to the Lake District National Park and it is considered that it would be detrimental to the present characteristics and qualities of the National Park.”  This stage of the process is intended simply to rule out sites that definitely could not host the underground workings of a facility for geological reasons in order to avoid unnecessary effort by communities and government if there was no geology within the area worth considering further. The surface facilities could be located at some distance away from the underground location of the geological disposal facility (GDF).

Should a decision to participate be taken, any potential candidate site would need to be assessed against a wide range or geological, environmental and other criteria and this will include consideration of the impact of any surface facilities on the natural landscape and the built environment.

At this early stage, it is not possible to specify exactly what a geological disposal facility will look like at the surface. Potential surface features of a facility might include construction facilities, workshops, administration buildings, buffer waste storage etc but the detailed layout and design will depend on its location and can be tailored to the topography at the site in question. Planning controls will ensure that surface facilities are appropriately structured and landscaped.

GDF facilities being sited either on or under the National Park

The protection of the natural landscape and built environment of the national park is clearly important. However this stage of the process is intended simply to rule out sites that definitely could not host a facility for obvious geological reasons in order to avoid unnecessary effort by communities and government if there was no geology within the area worth considering further. Any area for which a community expresses an interest, that is not excluded by the BGS screening report on geological grounds, and for which a community subsequently decides it wants to participate further, could be considered for further investigation in the site selection process.

Should a decision to participate be taken, any potential candidate site would need to be assessed against a wide range of geological, environmental and other criteria including consideration of any impact on the natural landscape and the built environment.

Legislative barriers to placing the facilities either on or under the National Park

There are no explicit legislative barriers which would prevent facilities being located in the national park, However, the protection of the natural landscape and built environment of the national park is clearly important and there are a range of environmental and planning considerations which would need to be addressed if placing facilities on or under the national park were to be proposed at a later stage in the process.

Should a decision to participate be taken, any potential candidate site would need to be assessed against a wide range of geological, environmental and other criteria including consideration of any impact on the natural landscape and the built environment.

The Lake District National Park Authority’s power to stop the facilities being placed either on or under the National Park

Under the 1995 Environment Act, the National Park Authority is the local planning authority for the area of the National Park, which includes responsibility for minerals and local waste planning. The Authority would therefore have a role in determining planning applications that fell within, or partly within, the protected area. The Authority may also respond as a consultee to other relevant planning authorities outside the area where they feel that developments may impact on the purpose of the National Park or the functions of the National Park Authority.

Defining the affected community in the context of the National Park

The MRWS White Paper identifies 3 types of community:

  • Host Community – the community in which any facility will be built. This will be a small geographically defined area and include the population of that area and the owners of the land. For example, it could be a town or village.
  • Decision Making Body – the Local Government decision-making authority for the host community.
  • Wider Local Interests – other communities that have an interest in whether or not a facility should be built in the Host Community. Such as the next village, a neighbouring district or a community on the local transport routes to the Host Community.

These are not rigid; the intention is to retain flexibility to account for local circumstances.

Likely site for the repository

At this early stage, areas not excluded by the BGS report are all of the same standing. That would remain the case until, and if, a community makes a decision to participate further in the process when increasingly detailed assessments of geological suitability as well as assessments based on other criteria such as potential impact on natural environment and landscape, impact on people, transport and infrastructure, costs etc would all need to be undertaken.

Miscellaneous

Area focus for future consultations

At this early stage, areas not excluded by the BGS report are all of the same standing. That would remain the case until, and if, a community makes a decision to participate further in the process when increasingly detailed assessments of geological suitability as well as assessments based on other criteria such as potential impact on natural environment and landscape, impact on people, transport and infrastructure, costs etc would all need to be undertaken.

Consideration of people who live outside the areas where the facilities could be built

The MRWS White Paper identifies 3 types of community. One of these, Wider Local Interests, will be communities outside the host community that have an interest in whether or not a facility should be built there. These might be the next village, a neighbouring district or a community on the local transport routes to the Host Community.

These are not rigid; the intention is to retain flexibility to account for local circumstances.

Risks around the disposal of nuclear waste underneath housing

This can be deemed to be safe and secure. We need to make sure that any proposed site is suitable, both in terms of the geology and with regards to the wider environmental and social impacts.

No underground facility will be built unless it can meet the demanding safety requirements of the independent statutory regulators.

Why the government is continuing to pursue the geological disposal approach, despite The ‘Rock solid?’ report’s suggestion that this is not right

  • we are aware of the areas that are highlighted in the report. Many of the associated considerations will depend on the specific setting of any potential site, and much of the associated work would be done through the course of an implementation programme. Some of that work can only be done during implementation

  • geological disposal is internationally recognised as the preferred approach and is being adopted in many countries - including Canada, Finland, France, Sweden etc. It is also supported by a number of UK learned societies such as the Royal Society, the Geological Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry

  • the outcome of CoRWM’s work, the wide range of soundings that were taken to arrive at this outcome and the evidence base for it stand alongside all the international experience and evidence that geological disposal is the most appropriate route to follow

Identifying candidate sites

If a community decides to participate further then increasingly detailed assessments would be made applying a range of geological and other criteria. These would include consideration of local criteria identified by the partnership . the community siting partnership would have a key role in this process.

Initially these assessments would be used to identify potential candidate sites and then to assess them during desk based studies to identify a small number of candidate sites which would proceed to surface investigation provided the local community did not wish to exercise its right of withdrawal at his stage.

Following surface investigation of candidate sites, if the community did not wish to exercise their right of withdrawal the government would identify a preferred site to move into construction subject to the necessary planning and regulatory approvals.

Strategic Environmental Assessment of the programme

Government is committed to ensuring that the programme fully assesses and accounts for environmental impact and sustainability issues through the application of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), sustainability appraisal and Environmental Impact Assessment.

NDA published its strategy for sustainability appraisal and environmental assessment last year and this is available on their website. This assessment work will necessarily play an important role if a decision is taken to progress to the next stage and an area looks to move towards potential sites.

Large scale map and localised detail

The information sources used in the study are derived from a range of map publication scales and it would not be appropriate to try to present this data at too great a scale. Geological data has been interpreted onto a land surface map and as such a greater scale map would be misleadingly precise.

The purpose of the study is not to decide where a facility would be located, but to prevent an expression of interest community from participating in discussions when their area obviously has no suitable geology. The results in this case do not present any reason why West Cumbria could not continue to consider whether to participate in the site selection process.

Published 28 January 2013