Government keeps open mind on number of new underground nuclear storage facilities

The government has not ruled out the creation of more than one underground nuclear waste storage facility, according to a new national policy statement (NPS) aiming to guide the future planning process for such infrastructure.

Nuclear: waste disposal site policy statement published
Nuclear: waste disposal site policy statement published

The NPS on geological disposal, published last week by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, sets out the national need for underground nuclear waste infrastructure and the criteria against which the energy secretary would decide development consent applications for such a facility under the Planning Act 2008. 

The document says that geological disposal "involves isolating radioactive waste deep inside a suitable rock volume to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment".

The NPS does not specify a particular site for such a facility.

It says that, while the government "favours an approach where one geological disposal facility will provide the capacity needed", it "may not be practical to dispose of all the waste in one geological disposal facility, and so it cannot be ruled out that more than one such facility will be required".

"For this reason, the secretary of state should not refuse to grant development consent for a geological disposal facility only because the proposed facility would have insufficient capacity for the entire inventory," the NPS says. 

If built, the facility, or facilities, would store the country’s high-level and intermediate-level wastes, such as plutonium and uranium stocks, which have been created as a byproduct from 60 years of nuclear power generation, medicine, research and defence-related nuclear programmes.

Such schemes would be built between 200 and 1,000 metres below the surface and protected in the event of earthquakes, tsunamis and long term environmental changes such as future glaciation, according to the statement.

The government has been trying to create a geological disposal facility since 1974, but has repeatedly suffered setbacks in finalising the scheme. The last delay was in 2013 when Cumbria County Council withdrew from the government’s search to host the underground waste dump.

The government’s geological disposal NPS sits alongside the government’s ‘Working with Communities’ policy document published in December 2018, which made clear any such disposal site would be determined by the willingness of a community to host it, as well as the suitability of the geology in the area.

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