Britain’s plans for safe disposal of its nuclear waste


Following October’s agreement between EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation, Britain’s newest nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset should start generating 3.2 GW of electricity in 10 years’ time.

While its reactor will use less uranium and produce less long-lived radioactive waste compared with water reactors in operation today, it will still potentially add over 50 tonnes spent fuel a year to the UK’s current stockpile of 650,000 cubic metres of higher-activity radioactive waste.

‘This volume would fill just over half of Wembley stadium,’ says Cherry Tweed, chief scientific officer of Radioactive Waste Management Limited.

‘Vast tunnels’

Like other nuclear nations, the UK plans to bury its nuclear waste deep underground where it will remain safe for hundreds of thousands of years. Tweed and her colleagues Alun Ellis and Rob Whittleston set out their current plans for a UK geological disposal facility in the journal.

They say the waste is likely to be stored in a vast network of tunnels and vaults up to 1 km underground stretching over an area of 10 to 20 square kilometres. The surface facilities will only be around 1 square kilometre but will need to be designed for over 100 years of secure operation.


But the biggest challenge will be finding an acceptable site. According to Tweed, ‘Although the technology for geological disposal is well established, societal challenges remain. Experience from around the world has shown that those programmes based on engagement with local communities continue to process in a mutually acceptable way. This volunteerism approach has been adopted as government policy in the UK and detailed proposals for siting are currently being developed.’

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