A Geological Disposal Facility, or GDF, is an underground facility designed to safely and securely dispose of our radioactive waste – specifically ‘higher-activity’ waste.
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 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.
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, are the UK’s independent nuclear regulators, and they will review the designs and safety cases for a GDF, the proposed site, and the science that informs them, and will make sure it protects people and the environment. A GDF will only be built if the independent regulators are satisfied.
Unlike other big infrastructure projects, the process of choosing a site for a GDF requires the explicit consent of a community willing to host the facility.
Forming the GDF Community Partnership is not a commitment to agree to a GDF in the area. Neither is studying potential sites or planning how the community could potentially benefit from the project. The community can be withdrawn from the process at any time.
A Working Group is formed early in the GDF siting process to begin local discussions and fact-finding with the community.
An early task for the Working Group was to identify and propose a Search Area for further consideration by the GDF developer. The Working Group spoke with hundreds of people across the community to begin to understand issues or questions they might have about geological disposal. The Working Group also recruited initial members for the Community Partnership (see below) which is now taking the process further forward.
A Community Partnership is a group made up of members from three sectors – local authorities, (county, district, town and parish councils) and people from voluntary and community groups and organisations, business representative and NWS, the GDF developer.
A Community Partnership’s role includes ensuring the community has the relevant information they need when considering the possibility of hosting a GDF. An outline of the full role and key responsibilities of a Community Partnership can be found from page 45 in the Implementing geological disposal – working with communities policy.
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 a Community Partnership, you will be able to communicate your views on the proposals by:
Further on in the siting process, a Community Partnership will need to provide evidence that its community supports the siting of a GDF in the area, via a Test of Public Support.
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 NWS, 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 NWS, 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.
A Working Group was formed in Theddlethorpe, and they identified an initial ‘Search Area’. This is the geographical area or areas within which the GDF developer will seek potentially suitable sites for a GDF. The GDF developer’s role is very much one of information gathering, ahead of a Community Partnership being formed.
A Theddlethorpe Community Partnership has formed that takes over the work of the Working Group and this will include community members and organisations, seeking to be reflective of our local community. 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.
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 70 years. As a result, we’ve produced various different types of radioactive waste, including ‘higher-activity’ waste.
Radioactive waste is stored at nuclear facilities around the country, with the bulk of it stored as Sellafield, Europe’s largest nuclear site. Sellafield dates back to the late 1940s and 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.
Sellafield’s range of purpose-built stores are 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 climate changes 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 future generations to take perpetual care of today’s hazardous legacy.
GDF surface facilities could require around one square kilometre of land, depending on how the site was laid out and if any of the facilities were located off-site.
These surface facilities would be linked to the much larger underground GDF facilities by sloping tunnels and/or vertical shafts. The primary purpose of the surface facilities would be to receive solid waste packages from rail and road network and transfer them to the underground facilities and to support ongoing construction of new underground vaults.
The GDF developer would seek to ensure that the delivery of a GDF is sensitive to the local area and that the designs of surface facilities are sympathetic to the local environment.
Under current plans, at the end of the operation phase the surface facility would be removed with the area being restored to natural habitat.
Yes, it is possible for the underground facilities to extend out beyond the coastline, underneath several hundreds of metres of rock. The initial discussions about Theddlethorpe have focused on a GDF deep in the rock beyond the coast.
From a geological perspective, there is little difference between a GDF constructed within rocks under land or within rocks under the seabed. A GDF exists to isolate the waste from the surface environment, and providing the correct geological environment is selected, it makes little difference what is going on in that surface environment – land or sea. In either scenario, the depths of rock above ensure protection for many thousands of years.
What’s absolutely clear is that while a GDF could be built hundreds of metres below the seabed, waste would not be disposed of on the seabed itself.
Compared to a land based GDF, there are of course different challenges and considerations, such as avoiding disruption to marine environments during preliminary investigations and construction. We would also need to liaise with stakeholders in the fishing and maritime sectors.
But the priorities would remain the same: safety and security, plus full compliance with all the regulatory criteria.
When the time comes – many years from now – a GDF would be built safely in any one of three potential host rock types commonly found in the UK. You can read more about the different geologies here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68fJrVN_B_k
The potential host rock around Theddlethorpe, including the area deep under the seabed, is made up of a well-known and predictable sequence of sedimentary rocks at the right depth for a GDF (200-1,000m).
We already know quite a lot about the subsurface geology of the UK, but not enough to fully base a final decision on the siting of a GDF, because it would be built much deeper (up to 1000m) than normal underground infrastructure, like most pipelines and train tunnels. So we will need to carry out further detailed, site-specific investigations like seismic surveys and drilling boreholes before it is possible to conclude whether an area would be suitable or not. We already know quite a lot about the subsurface geology of the UK, but not enough to fully base a final decision on the siting of a GDF, because it would be built much deeper (up to 1000m) than normal underground infrastructure, like most pipelines and train tunnels. So we will need to carry out further detailed, site-specific investigations like seismic surveys and drilling boreholes before it is possible to conclude whether an area would be suitable or not.
Different types of transport infrastructure will be needed at different stages of the project, if it were to proceed. Detailed studies will be undertaken and the transport options looked at, based on the construction and operational requirements for a GDF within the Search Area.
This will take place at the stage of Community Partnership and these studies would explore and understand the impact on transport infrastructure. It could also help to identify potential benefits for local communities through connections to the existing road and rail networks.
While initial site investigations take place, there would be very little change. During construction, we would need to move construction materials and spoil from digging tunnels and underground shafts, along with the people who are building it. As we begin the operation phase, additional infrastructure would be required to safely transport the packaged radioactive waste.
The existing transport networks around Theddlethorpe or any other site will almost certainly need to be improved, which could provide additional local benefits by improving road and rail connections. This could make the area more attractive for further economic development, other investment projects and support tourism.
Any plans to change and enhance the transport infrastructure would have to be in line with local transport plans and designed to make sure they also provide the greatest possible benefit to the local community.
Any future transport options would need to take into account the flood risk, just as the GDF surface site location would. As part of this, opportunities for combining transport improvements, particularly road or rail with flood mitigation works would be considered.
Sea transport would be considered and could bring additional benefits through the upgrading of existing ports for example, as well as reducing the impact of land-based transport.
We understand that communities might be concerned about property values. Most major infrastructure projects provide compensation for local residents and property owners who experience an impact on the value of their property as a result of new infrastructure.
Now that a Community Partnership has been formed, the GDF developer will work in partnership with the community to assess how a property support scheme would be implemented. The GDF developer would seek independent advice and draw upon best practice and experience from other infrastructure projects, to ensure any potential scheme is appropriate for the local area.
There will be a long lead-in time to the construction of a GDF of perhaps 20 years, as well as on-going construction and operation for over 100 years. This means there is ample time to work with the community on the training and education aspirations to develop a local workforce and ensure local people can and do get jobs at the facility. Because construction and operation run in parallel, workers would live in the area for generations, not just a few years during the initial construction work. This would have a significant long-term impact on the local economy.
Large parts of the East Lindsey Area are protected due to their nature conservation interest and we understand and fully support that these protected areas need to be respected. We would seek to work with the local authorities, the community, and relevant stakeholders, to understand the natural environment in greater detail and consider the implications of delivering a GDF in line with relevant legislation and policy. There may be opportunities to provide environmental enhancements as part of the delivery of a GDF.
Because with something like a GDF, its only right that we proceed carefully. It is expected to take 10 to 15 years to identify a suitable site, and around 10 years of initial construction before a GDF can start to receive waste. However, the process is driven largely by discussions with communities and the time needed to carry out detailed investigations at the site. Therefore, this date must not be seen as fixed, but instead as a reasonable basis for planning based on current assumptions and planning timescales.
The Search Area is the geographical area within which the GDF developer will look to find a potential site. The Search Area has to be based on district electoral ward boundaries and it can be no smaller than a district council electoral ward. Also, Community Partnership members must have lived or worked within the Search Area – the two electoral wards of Withern & Theddlethorpe and Mablethorpe – for at least 12 months prior to formation of the Partnership. The deep geology under the inshore area (beyond the coast) will also be considered for the underground part of a GDF.
It covers the two East Lindsey District Council electoral wards of Withern & Theddlethorpe, and Mablethorpe. That’s an area of around 110 square kilometres, with a population of over 9,000.
The former gas terminal site in Theddlethorpe remains a key focus area for the GDF surface facilities and the deep geology under the inshore area (beyond the coast) will considered for the underground part of a GDF.
Although the Working Group’s initial area of interest remains the former gas terminal site in Theddlethorpe, the ward of Mablethorpe has been included because it is so close to the boundary of the gas terminal site and the potential to locate some facilities, such as offices or training facilities at other locations, including Mablethorpe.
Yes – a Community Partnership could change the Search Area as proposals develop in more detail. For example, if new infrastructure like roads or a rail link were needed.
Eventually, the Search Area will be narrowed down until the Community Partnership identifies a specific site and the community which will be directly affected by the facility being on that site. This will be the “Potential Host Community” (PHC). The PHC will also be defined using electoral ward boundaries and it is the people living within this area that will be involved in the final Test of Public Support.
Government policy is clear that, before the final decision is made on a preferred site, there must be a Test of Public Support to determine whether the PHC is willing to host a GDF. It would be for the principal local authority/authorities on the Community Partnership, to decide when the Test of Public support would be carried out. The Community Partnership as a whole, will choose the mechanism for carrying out the Test of Public Support.
The Community Investment Funding will be spent on projects which benefit people living within the Search Area. If the Search Area was changed or enlarged, by the Community Partnership, then Community Investment Funding would be spent on projects to benefit people living across that area.