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What makes a GDF safe?

July 10, 2023

Is geological disposal safe? We hear this question frequently so we put it to the developer, Nuclear Waste Services:


Safety through stringent regulations

There is international consensus that geological disposal is the safest permanent solution to dealing with radioactive waste.

The UK has stringent, independent and effective regulation for all aspects of radioactive waste management.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency, the UK’s independent nuclear regulators, will review the designs for a GDF, the proposed site and the science informing the project, to make sure it protects people and the environment.

A GDF will be built only if it can meet these criteria and if a community consents.


Safety and the multi-barrier approach

A GDF is made of a surface facility, about 1km2 – the size of a small business park – plus a series of specially designed and engineered vaults and tunnels, which would be constructed deep underground. Illustrative designs of underground facilities show a footprint of around 10-20 square kilometres but this could be smaller if waste was placed at several different depths.

A GDF could potentially be three times deeper than the height of the Shard in London, which is Britain’s tallest building.

Solid radioactive waste is packaged in secure engineered containers, typically made of metal or concrete, and then placed in a stable rock formation hundreds of metres below

the surface, with the containers surrounded by clay or cement. This is the multi-barrier approach.

Together, these barriers are designed to help to safely and securely work together to provide multiple levels of protection from the waste for many thousands of years, deep underground, far away from people and the environment.

Filling a GDF with waste and then closing it, once full, will run into the next century.


Safety and the Allerdale geology

A National Geological Screening exercise has been carried out by the GDF developer, based on British Geological Survey data. Initial work by the developer shows that there may be a suitable geological setting for a GDF in most of this sub-region.

More detailed investigations would be carried out over time by scientists to ensure a site would be suitable, keeping the local community involved every step of the way right up to a Test of Public Support.

No areas which fall within the Lake District National Park or Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) will be considered for a GDF.


Learn more in this video from Nuclear Waste Services: