School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

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Possible UK radioactive waste sites

Do sites exist which could provide alternatives to west Cumbria and Sellafield?

In the 1980's, BGS British Geological Survey, were commissioned by UK Nirex to survey the UK, in a search for places where radioactive waste could be securely stored. That took an approach based on the groundwater flow conditions, which is still considered valid today (2012). The map produced as a result of that work was published by UK Nirex in "The Way Forward" a consultation document, which was distributed to all local authorities in the UK. This map, reproduced below, is an authoritative guide to places which are potentially suitable beneath the UK, and those which are not. Of course, even regions which are coloured red, brown, or yellow on this map as "potentially suitable" will need a programme of additional survey work, including drilling boreholes, taking measurements and probably constructing an Underground Rock Laboratory, before any progress can be made towards making a decision, It is also clear that local communities must be involved throughout, in genuine dialogue and with truly independent technical advice.

Here is a rare copy of "The Way Forward by Nirex" And a similarly rare copy of the original BGS work on which that was based IAEA Hannover conference Chapman McEwen Beale 1986

[Radioactive waste sites uk map The way Forward Nirex]

The region of the UK which best fits international criteria is a zone of about 20km either side of the A11 from Cambridge to Norfolk. This is crystalline "basement" rocks completely overlain, i.e. covered, by flat lying unfaulted sedimentary rocks. the section below, shows the cross-section of this region. Notice the scale bar - a Repository for UK waste needs only to find 5km x 5km site. S there are plenty of locations to investigate in more detail within this region.

[Norfolk geology section]

No detailed investigations have been done, to achieve the required certainty. But a UK wide survey of sites was been undertaken twice, with a full listing provided by PIEDA in the 1980's. This identified a site in Norfolk, which fits the international criteria very well indeed for long-term radioactive waste disposal. That is Stanford in Norfolk. The reason that Stanford doesn't show up on any maps is that its a military testing range, and very few people live there (maybe 6 according to Google searches). So its hard fora community like that to volunteer as a candidate site, even if the community know it was located above potentially suitable geology.

You can click to find a Google maps image of Stanford, aka Thetford Forest. [Stanford Norfolk air map]

Here is the same map of regions of the UK which may be generically suitable for radioactive waste disposal, compiled by British Geological Survey for "The Way Forward" published by Nirex in the late 1980's .
Superimposed onto this I have places the names and locations of some of the UK's current large nuclear facilities.
I am working from two principles to locate a candidate nuclear disposal site:

1) The geology should be generally suitable to contain radioactive wast by natural processes, rather than engineering to contradict natural processes

2) Surface populations today who have nuclear facilities are more likely to be familiar with nuclear issues, and open to the possibility of further nuclear developments.

This means that where surface facilities overlie potentially suitable deep geology, it will be worth further investigation, and extended dialogue to inform those communities that they are located above a potential asset.
As noted before, some of the most suitable sites have no or minimal population - so it is hard to understand how they could "Volunteer"
[Potential sites for deep disposal of UK nuclear waste]
This simple compilation is not the end of a story, but just a beginning. It points to further investigation around

  • 1) Caithness
    2) Anglesey
    3) Hartlepool (evaporite mines)
    4) Norfolk (empty military space at Stanford, not nuclear site - see above on this page)
    5) SE Kent, but not Dungeness itself
    6) And, probably east of Oldbury

  • Note that the West Cumbria ornament is A) offshore and B) referring to areas of sedimentary formations. Neither of these are what was searched for in the 1990's by Nirex. Nor do these two types of region appear to be what is being searched for by NDA today.