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Public Lecture: Geological disposal of radioactive waste in the UK

13 February 2019
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The Geological Society, Burlington House
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Preparations for undertaking one of Britain’s largest ever environmental projects are advancing rapidly. Radioactive Waste Management is a public sector delivery body tasked with disposing of Britain’s higher activity radioactive waste. A complex 60-year legacy of waste needs to be managed to protect people and the environment from its harmful properties.

The safest and most sustainable way to deal with higher activity waste is to emplace it in a geological disposal facility (GDF). Geological disposal combines engineered and natural barriers working together to isolate a GDF from humans and surface processes, and to prevent migration of radionuclides to the surface environment. Natural barriers are provided by the geology in which the GDF will be hosted, plus any overlying low-permeability sedimentary layers.

GDF delivery requires a suitable site – not the perfect geology – and a willing community (the ‘social licence to operate’). Among major infrastructure programmes, it is possibly uniquely challenged by the need for public consent and the very long timescales, of both GDF programme duration and the geological length of the post-closure safety period (>100,000 years).

Conceptual designs have been developed for geological disposal in three broad categories of host rock type: Higher-Strength Rock (HSR) such as hard, fractured crystalline rocks, very low-permeability Lower-Strength Sedimentary Rock (LSSR), and rock salt. Examples from overseas include Finland and Sweden where granitic HSR is the host rock for GDFs they are developing, Jurassic clay-rich LSSRs are the host in France and Switzerland, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico is constructed in Permian rock salt.

Site selection is consent-based and RWM will work in partnership with local communities over a period of many decades through the site selection, site investigation and operational stages of this 100+ year programme.


Jonathan Turner, Radioactive Waste Management 

Jonathan is a Chartered Geologist with a background in technical project work, especially where it impacts oil & gas exploration and subsurface engineering programmes. 

He has specialist expertise applying a broad range of workflows in basins worldwide and has published widely on applications of structural geology and geomechanics. At the oil & gas company, BG Group (now Shell), his roles included deputy chief geologist during delivery of the major Santos basin (Brazil) and Surat basin (Queensland) development projects.

Video's of past lectures can be viewed online in our Past Meeting Resources

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