Secret list of UK potential waste sites revealed

10 June 2005

Nirex has published a list compiled in the late 1980s of UK sites thought potentially suitable for a long-term radioactive waste repository.

It is UK policy to treat intermediate- and high-level wastes in the same way and Nirex was created in 1982 to research, develop and operate a long-term store for the wastes.

Nirex found over 30% of Great Britain to be potentially suitable for a deep geological repository and initial investigations threw up 537 possible locations. A process of multi-attribute decision analysis, which was not discussed openly, was used to narrow this down to the following list:

  • Bradwell, Essex.
  • Potton Island, Essex.
  • Dounreay, Caithness.
  • Altnabreac, Caithness.
  • Fuday, Western Isles.
  • Sandray, Western Isles.
  • Killingholme, South Humberside.
  • Offshore – East (serviced by Redcar Port).
  • Offshore – West (serviced by Hunterston Port).
  • Sellafield, Cumbria (two locations).
  • Stanford, Norfolk.
Nirex insist the list will not form the starting point for any forthcoming studies. However, British geology has not changed since the list was drawn up and it must be a virtual certainty that some of the sites listed, particularly Sellafield and Dounreay, will be discussed in coming years. In the past, only Dounreay and Sellafield have been openly admitted to have been under consideration – the other sites were kept secret to avoid ‘blighting’ the areas.

In 1991 it was decided to focus on the Sellafield site and in 1997 a planning application was made to then Environment Secretary Michael Meacher for a rock characterisation facility. Meacher denied permission and the UK waste management programme effectively stalled.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is currently in the middle of a wide-ranging consultation that has considered every conceivable method of disposal and storage of HLW and ILW. It is widely expected to recommend phased, retrievable deep geologic storage in its July 2006 report to government. Crucially, however CoRWM will not advise on the location of any store, that will be up to another enquiry to be started after government has spent a year mulling over the CoRWM recommendation.

Nirex’s managing director Chris Murray said: “We hope the publication of the list will help move the debate away from past attempts to tackle this issue and on to the new process, led by CoRWM in which we would encourage everyone to get involved. Many things have changed since the old list was drawn up, but what has not changed is that the waste still exists and needs to be dealt with.” He added: “Responsibility lies with this generation to ensure this is done.”

Geoff Blackwell, chair of the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum commented:We do appreciate that the release of this list now might raise real concerns in the local communities being named, and this is why we have worked with Nirex to ensure that the release of the list was properly explained and that every local community was provided with explanatory information.

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