Nuclear Waste Services' Karen Wheeler CBE provides an industry briefing to the APPG on Infrastructure.
This month I was delighted to brief the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) about the vital infrastructure programme that my organisation is leading.
Nuclear technology has been part of our daily lives for over 60 years.
It has been powering homes and businesses, diagnosing and treating serious illnesses, and protecting our country.
However, this technology has generated radioactive waste that needs to be managed safely over long timescales.
Current storage above ground is safe today but is not a sustainable long-term option.
Nuclear Waste Services (NWS), part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), has been tasked by the UK government to provide a long-term solution for higher activity radioactive waste to protect the environment and future generations.
Finding a willing community and suitable site
Importantly, this is a consent-based policy that requires us to deliver both a suitable site and a willing community. It will not be enough to have only one or the other.
Working With Communities policy sets out the process for engaging with potential host communities in England or Wales, including local decision-making to demonstrate willingness (or not) to host a facility.
My teams nationally and locally are working hard to address questions about local impacts, safety, security, transport and other issues.
But above all, to involve local people in deciding what they want for their communities.
This is a truly transformative project.
Communities can benefit in the long term from a major project of this kind, which will deliver local investment, infrastructure, skills and thousands of jobs over 100 plus years.
A solution deep underground
Geological disposal is internationally recognised as the best solution for dealing with this waste.
A Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) is a highly engineered underground facility designed to safely and securely dispose of the waste.
Designed and engineered with multiple barriers working with the enduring natural barrier of the geology means it can keep protecting people and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years, without needing any maintenance, while the radioactivity reduces naturally.
Once the waste is placed inside a GDF, the facility is permanently sealed.
GDF: facts and figures
- A GDF will be built at between 200 and 1,000 metres underground. The Shard in London is 300 metres tall.
- It will be approximately 1km2 for surface facilities– that’s equivalent to 800 Olympic-size swimming pools.
- It will feature over 20km2 for the subsurface disposal areas.
- Underground, the GDF could create a network of 300-400km of tunnels and disposal areas.
- It could also have drifts and accessways that could be many kilometres long.
- The GDF will operate for over 100 years and create thousands of jobs.
We work closely with independent regulators.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency will review the designs for a GDF, the proposed site, and the science that informs them, to make sure it will be safe.
Only then can it be built.