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UK Geological Disposal Gains Momentum

Natalyn AlaNatalyn Ala of Radioactive Waste Management provides an update on progress towards identifying a suitable site for a geological disposal facility (GDF) in the UK.

Two fundamental factors will influence the choice of a site for a geological disposal facility (GDF) for the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste. These are the identification of a suitable geological environment and a community willing to host the facility in their locality.

The White Paper on Implementing Geological Disposal has rightly highlighted the importance of providing information to people about the geology of their region. It notes this should be done before engaging with them directly about hosting a geological disposal facility (GDF).

Since 2014, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), as the developer of a UK GDF, has been working on this commitment through its National Geological Screening (NGS) exercise. Working with experts across the country, we have used our understanding of the safety case for geological disposal to identify the geological attributes which are important for safety of a GDF in the long term. This exercise has drawn upon a wide range of expertise, including the Geological Society and the British Geological Survey (BGS), in order to develop the methodology, which we have set down in a Guidance document.

Using the Guidance we will extract the relevant data from national geological databases. The resulting information will in turn be used to produce a series of outputs to help guide communities who may be considering discussing participation with us. It has to be stressed that this is a national exercise and has not been designed to include more local geological information. These resources will come into play when we enter into discussions with local communities.


At the end of last year, RWM organised a public consultation on the draft Guidance, asking both specialists and interested individuals to tell us what would help them understand the geology of their region, especially those aspects which would contribute to the safety of a GDF were it to be built in their area.

A number of the responses focused on the geological considerations set out in RWM’s draft Guidance while others offered suggestions on the best way of presenting this information to the wider public.

Having carefully considered all these contributions, we have revised the Guidance and expanded the section identifying how geological attributes contribute to safety of a GDF. In order to implement the Guidance we have commissioned the British Geological Survey to collate the required information and have set out the steps to be taken in a series of instructions which show how we will apply the Guidance and define the form of the outputs we will produce in the coming months. The instructions are a working document and will themselves develop and be refined as the project moves forward.

A formal Consultation Response will be published setting out details of how we have addressed the different suggestions made by individuals and organisations to the draft Guidance.

We have discussed the revised Guidance and the Detailed Technical Instructions with the Independent Review Panel (IRP) set up by the Geological Society at the request of the government. At a meeting in early March, RWM and the Panel went through a thorough consideration of the revisions made following the public consultation.

All the documents will shortly be published online on our website at

Next steps

We are now starting work with BGS to produce the outputs that will help communities decide whether to begin initial discussions with RWM about hosting a GDF once the formal siting process begins in 2017. The outputs will consist of a series of regional narratives based on the 13 BGS regions within England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They will be supplemented by relevant maps.

The National Geological Screening exercise is one of three Initial Actions set out in the White Paper. Once it and the other two, involving planning law and also topics concerning community engagement, are complete, we will be ready to begin the process of siting a GDF for the UK.

Natalyn Ala is the Geological Disposal Facility Siting Director at Radioactive Waste Management (RWM). She is also a Fellow of the Geological Society and Secretary of its Professional Affairs Committee.