Welcome to the future

Take a trip 1km underground, several decades from now, to explore a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF)

A 2D version of this video is available on YouTube

At this stage, no host site for a geological disposal facility has been identified and no region is being targeted over another.

The disposal of radioactive waste for the UK is a devolved matter. Whilst the Northern Ireland Executive has previously supported geological disposal (in 2008 and 2014), any future policy decisions in relation to geological disposal in Northern Ireland remain a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, which is currently suspended. In the continued absence of the Executive, no further commitments regarding the disposal of Radioactive Waste in Northern Ireland can be given.

Radioactivity is a process in which atoms spontaneously break down and emit energy. Materials that do this are called radioactive. Some of the energy released is in the form of heat.

Radioactive waste is radioactive material for which we have no further use. Most comes from the generation of electricity using nuclear power but it is also a by-product of many medical and industrial processes, research and defence activities that make use of radioactivity and radioactive materials.

A GDF will take higher activity waste. This consists of High Level Waste, Intermediate Level Waste and a small amount of Low Level Waste which is not suitable for disposal at existing surface facilities. For planning purposes, we consider wastes from existing uses of radioactive materials, as well as wastes that would be generated from new nuclear power stations. We also include various nuclear materials in our planning that are not currently classified as waste, since these would need to be managed through geological disposal if it were decided at some point that they had no further use.

Radioactive wastes that will be disposed of in a GDF are currently being packaged in specially engineered containers and stored at over 20 nuclear sites around the country. The stores are designed to withstand severe weather and earthquakes.

Surface stores, whilst designed to be safe for around 100 years, don’t provide a permanent solution. They need to be continually monitored to keep the waste secure and periodically refurbished to prevent the waste from being exposed to the effects of the weather. Eventually, they will need to be replaced, or the waste moved elsewhere. Surface storage is therefore less safe than geological disposal for the long term, and would end up being much more labour intensive and costly in the long run.  We have the skills, expertise and technology to implement geological disposal now, and should not put off doing so.

Construction will only start when a suitable site is identified, all the necessary consents and permits have been obtained and the host community has indicated its willingness to host the facility through a test of public support. For planning purposes, we assume that a GDF will be available to receive the first waste in the 2040s. Filling a GDF with waste and then closing it, once full, will then run into the next century.

Government has asked RWM to plan for, and build, a GDF. We will appoint contractors who have the necessary specialist skills to support us in our work.

The siting process is now open as all the preparatory work has been completed.

RWM has published all of the information needed to understand a GDF, including the opportunities a GDF will bring. There are brochures and videos which explain what a GDF is, what makes it safe and why it could be sited in a region. There are also ways to raise your questions directly with RWM.

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All the information on this page is available in Welsh

If you have any questions, please contact us at gdfenquiries@nda.gov.uk

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