Geologists unearth more UK sites for nuclear waste storage

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The Independent Online

Around 40 per cent of the UK has the right geology to store the country's 470,000 tons of nuclear waste, according to initial findings by the British Geological Survey (BGS).

If confirmed, this figure is much higher than the 30 per cent judged to be suitable 10 years ago, when the building of an underground nuclear waste repository was last considered.

The Government will be advised next month that this type of repository is the best way to store the UK's waste. Ministers are expected to agree to the recommendation from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management by the end of the year. The process to decide how to build a repository and select a site can then begin.

Richard Shaw from the BGS said: "Obviously, since the last site selection process, the geology has not changed. But our databases are much better and, as a result, so is our geological understanding." This time around, the radioactive material to be stored will include high-level waste, which is solidified and easier to maintain than low-level waste, he added.

The construction and management of the repository, which could cost £10bn to build, will deliver a bonanza for the nuclear industry. Construction could begin within 10 years. Companies such as BNG, Bechtel, Amec and Fluor would be interested in project-managing the construction and running the facility.

Once a decision is made on the repository, Nirex, the nuclear waste body, will ask drilling companies to test the geology of possible sites. Other factors that will determine which site is selected will include ease of transport of the waste, nearby population levels, benefits to the local economy and security risks.

Ministers want to press ahead with the construction of new nuclear power stations and are keen to resolve the problem of how to store the existing waste. A mixture of spent fuel and radioactive materials from decommissioned power stations, it is currently being stored in more than 30 temporary sites around the country.

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