GDF for Legacy or New Build Waste?

GDF

Artist Impression of a GDF

Cumbria Trust has been asked to clarify the current position on the nuclear waste inventory intended for burial in a GDF.

While the GDF was initially intended to be for existing (legacy) waste alone according to the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, over time it has become clearer that the UK government wanted to remove this restriction. During the failed Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) process, the question of inventory was left open. There was a 2010 baseline inventory of legacy waste and two further possible inventories, one using the assumption of a 10 GW(e) new build nuclear programme, and another based on a 16 GW(e) new build nuclear programme. The difference between the baseline inventory, and 16 GW(e) inventory was to approximately double the required footprint of the GDF, taking it from 10 to 23 square kilometres for example if constructed in a sedimentary rock.

DrumsDuring the MRWS process there were repeated assurances that the UK GDF was for UK waste only. However, in the late stages of the process, DECC announced that it had entered into a commercial agreement to take ownership of 4 tonnes of plutonium from Germany. DECC initially claimed that this did not breach the agreement, since it did not categorise the plutonium as waste, although this was rightly treated with some scepticism, as it seemed almost inevitable that plutonium would be re-categorised as waste within a few years. An NDA commissioned report in 2010 had included an assumption that plutonium would be categorised as waste and that burial would commence in 2136. So while DECC may not have explicitly breached the agreement, it certainly breached the spirit of the agreement.

Any new build nuclear power station will be required to store its spent fuel on site for many decades while it cools and undergoes radioactive decay, but ultimately it is assumed that waste will be buried in a GDF. Given the UK’s almost unique difficulty in finding a site for a GDF, largely caused by the search processes being irrationally centred on West Cumbria, it seems highly likely that any new build waste will be buried in the same GDF as the legacy waste.

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