If the repository is deep underground in the Lake District or the Solway Plain then presumably it won’t have much of a visual impact on the surface?
There would be a significant visual impact starting long before they decide to go ahead and construct a repository. Before they make that decision, the geology of the potential site and surrounding area would have to be tested. They would begin with non-intrusive surveys, such as aeromagnetic and radiometric surveys, which can be carried out with a series of closely-spaced low-level flights, 50-150 metres above the ground. They would also conduct seismic reflection surveys, which would be non-intrusive on relatively flat-lying ground but, according to Professor David Smythe, the lead geophysicist who conducted the previous seismic survey for Nirex, would require in the region of 60,000 holes a metre deep charged with dynamite if a mountainous site such as Ennerdale Fell was being studied.
Following on from that they would start drilling boreholes. Each drilling pad of concrete or crushed rock would be a little smaller than a football pitch. It is anticipated that around 16 drilling pads would be required, and around 20 deep boreholes would be drilled and tested. The more complex the geology, the greater number of boreholes required, so a site such as Ennerdale Fell may require a greater number. This drilling phase is expected to last 8-10 years. Roads or tracks suitable for HGVs would be required to each drilling pad to bring the rigs, cranes, forklifts, mobile offices and stores for the drilling cores. This would be particularly damaging for a remote or wilderness site.
If after that they decide to go ahead and build the repository, a vast amount of excavation spoil would have to be extracted. In the region of 18 million tonnes for a hard rock site such as Ennerdale, or a larger amount for a softer rock as found in the Solway plain.
How do you know that they will need to drill boreholes, carry out seismic surveys, and take away vast amounts of spoil if they go ahead and build it?
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) commissioned a report which was published in 2010 (Geological Disposal: Generic Environmental and Sustainability Report for a Geological Disposal facility) which confirms this. We have based our assessment of the work required on this and other official reports, together with advice from Professor David Smythe, Professor Stuart Haszeldine and other experts.
How do you answer the claim from politicians like Jamie Reed that groups opposed to geological disposal in Cumbria are scaremongering?
As with all large campaigns, a number of groups are involved, so it is fair to say that not everything that has been said or printed by every group is necessarily correct, and that is equally true of those supporting the proposal. Having said that, the main groups opposed to geological disposal in Cumbria have taken an extremely rigorous scientific approach with the help of experts such as Professors Smythe and Haszeldine. Groups such as Cumbria Trust take a great deal of care to ensure that whatever is said or published in our name is factually sound and balanced.
As has often been said, much of the real scaremongering has come from the proponents of the scheme, and in particular politicians who try to claim that there will be huge numbers of job losses if no repository is built in Cumbria, or that Sellafield’s future is at risk. These claims are simply untrue and a disgraceful attempt to make people fear for their future or that of their friends and relatives. Sellafield is in the enviable position of having a pipeline of work that stretches out well into the next century, and possibly even the one after that. Not many employers have that luxury.
In following the recommendations of the government’s own committee, CoRWM, Cumbria Trust is advocating that Secure Interim Storage should be built on the Sellafield site as an urgent priority. This has the benefits of protecting Cumbrians from the ‘intolerable risk’ described by the PAC (Public Accounts Committee), allowing a proper national geological survey to identify the safest locations for geological disposal, and of providing many new jobs on the Sellafield site.
If over 70% of the UK’s nuclear waste is in Cumbria, why are you campaigning for it not to be buried here? Surely it would be safer below ground than above it?
There is now a significant body of scientific evidence which shows that Cumbria’s complex, faulted geology, with fast underground water flow is not a safe place to bury nuclear waste. Previous studies by the the government have found exactly this, and despite attempts to airbrush parts of them out of existence, or to prevent access by removing key information from websites, the data still exists.
Geological disposal may well be a safer solution than storing the waste above ground, but its long term safety depends almost entirely on the geology in which it deposited. In the meantime there is an urgent need for Secure Interim Storage.
Is Cumbria Trust linked to or funded by any political party?
Is the current search for a GDF solely to deal with legacy waste or do they plan to bury the waste from any nuclear new build installations within the same 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.
During 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.