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The search for a geological disposal facility for high-level nuclear waste

Currently, the vast majority of higher activity radioactive waste from our nuclear industry is kept in stores above ground at Sellafield in West Cumbria.

The Government accepted the recommendation of the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) that the best available long-term solution for this waste is geological disposal. The Government says geological disposal involves placing the waste deep underground in a purpose-built facility, called a geological disposal facility (GDF) or a repository, leaving the waste there forever once the facility is closed. The rock itself forms the barrier to escape of hazardous material.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is responsible for implementing the Government’s policy on the long-term management of radioactive waste.

The approach to the search for a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste 

The Government says it is committed to an approach based on “voluntarism” - where communities would express a willingness to search for a site for a potential GDF, and perhaps ultimately host a facility, rather than having it forced upon them. Indeed, a right of withdrawal exists up until construction is due to start.  However, the Government has also made it clear that, if a site is not geologically suitable or safe for a GDF, one would not be built.

The Government says that, following any decision to participate in the siting process it would expect a community siting partnership to be set up. This would be a committee or grouping of local interests to provide advice and recommendations to the decision-making bodies.

The Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process

The Government published the MRWS white paper in June 2008, outlining the proposed process and stages that MRWS would take. Allerdale Borough Council expressed a without commitment interest in opening discussions with Government on the possibility of hosting a geological disposal facility at some point in the future (Stage 1) in January 2009. Allerdale, Copeland and the County Council soon after formed the West Cumbria MRWS Partnership and commissioned the government to undertake initial geological screening and entered stage three. The partnership then considered the issue over the next three years.

A consultation on a possible new process for finding a site for a GDF

In September 2013 the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced a new national consultation on a new process for finding a site to host a GDF.

A summary of the proposed revised siting process is provided in the Executive Summary of DECC's consultation document:

  • As a first step, there would be a period of public information sharing and discussion, during which the UK Government would seek to raise awareness of the GDF project nationally.
  • Clear, easy-to-access information on regional geology, the inventory of waste for disposal, and the generic socio-economic impacts of hosting a GDF would be provided up-front, as the basis for informed initial discussions with any interested communities.
  • There would also be greater clarity at an early stage about the scale and timing of community benefits and the likely investment in an area.
  • As a GDF will be a nationally significant infrastructure development, it is proposed that it should be designated as such, and brought within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project planning regime, as set out in the Planning Act 2008. A National Policy Statement on a GDF would be developed soon after the launch of the revised siting process. This would set out the assessment principles against which planning applications in relation to a GDF would be considered. The National Policy Statement would be subject to an Appraisal of Sustainability.
  • The siting process would be recast as a more continuous process, consisting of two main phases (‘Learning’ and ‘Focusing’). To ensure that communities are not pressured into making commitments before they are ready, the UK Government would not prescribe ‘decision points’ throughout this siting process.
  • Communities would retain an on-going Right of Withdrawal throughout the siting process. Clarification would be made about the level of public authority which represented potential host communities throughout the siting process (the ‘representative authority’). This would be the District Council or nearest equivalent (noting differences across devolved administrations).
  • The ‘Learning’ phase would involve the production of independent reports on local geology and the potential socio-economic impact of a GDF on the local area, paid for by the UK Government and delivered to the representative authority. If both the representative authority and the UK Government wished to proceed beyond this phase, then the ‘Focusing’ phase would begin.
  • The ‘Focusing’ phase would seek to identify potentially suitable sites within a community that has agreed to participate in the process and investigate them in more detail. Our aim is that community benefits could start being paid during this phase. This phase of work would be overseen by a decision making ‘Steering Group’, consisting of the representative authority with UK Government and the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority as the developer. A ‘Consultative Partnership’ of wider local interests would also be formed in this stage.
  • At a suitable point in the ‘Focusing’ phase, there would be a requirement for a demonstration of community support as the final step of the siting process. Without a positive demonstration of community support, development of a GDF could not proceed.

Allerdale Borough Council hosted an event for Councillors on 11 November 2013. The event was attended by officers from DECC who provided a presentation on the proposed revised siting process, and answered questions. This was followed by a facilitated roundtable workshop at which Councillors were encouraged to consider the questions raised in the consultation and provide their views. The results of the roundtable discussions were presented back to the rest of group and a written record was taken.

On 3 December 2013 the Executive considered and agreed the Council's response to this consultation

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Allerdale Borough Council
Allerdale House, Workington, Cumbria,
CA14 3YJ