Over a third of the UK is suitable for use as an underground repository for nuclear waste, waste management firm Nirex confirmed this week.
Nirex, which stores low level nuclear waste at Drigg, west Cumbria, was asked to look again at the UK's geology by the government's Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CORWM) earlier this year, bringing research carried out in 1986 up to date.The British Geological Survey conducted the research for Nirex and reported that 'rather more than... 30% of the UK land mass would provide a potentially suitable geological setting for a repository.'It will submit a final list of suitable locations later this year.CORWM advised government on Monday that underground disposal is the best way of managing the UK's 500,000m3 of nuclear waste (see NCE, 20 July).Arup tunnelling director and British Tunnelling Society chairman Bill Grose confirmed that advances in geotechnical science, tunnel design and tunnelling technology over the last 20 years meant that more sites could now be considered for a repository than when deep geological disposal was last considered.The first survey of UK geology was carried out by the BGS in 1986. Proposals for a deep repository were developed through the 1980s and 90s, but abandoned in 1997. Nirex science and technology director Bruce McKirdy emphasised that the investigation was not about site selection, but about proving that deep disposal was feasible.Potentially two or repositories would be needed, McKirdy added.'Decisions need to be taken on whether large volumes of waste are transported from one part of the country to another - from Dounreay [Scotland] or Sellafield [Cumbria] to wherever a repository or repositories are built.'It also needs to be decided whether intermediate and high level waste are disposed of in separate repositories or in a joint facility.'High level waste will generate heat in excess of 100degC, which will have to be dissipated through a ventilation and cooling system. Intermediate level waste will require less long term servicing.McKirdy said that construction of an intermediate level waste repository 1.2km below ground would cost around £1.94bn. A high level waste store would cost £1.6bn.Related links:Today's top stories