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NDA Annual Report and Accounts 2021-2022 | case studies

Engaging on the Geological Disposal Facility

Karen Wheeler, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Nuclear Waste Services

Karen Wheeler is Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Nuclear Waste Services and Senior Responsible Owner of the GDF programme. She explains more about how the organisation is working with communities to find a suitable site to host a GDF.

What is a GDF and why are you engaging communities?

Nuclear technology has been a part of our lives for over 60 years and is used in power generation, industry, medicine and defence. These activities have created radioactive waste which is currently stored above ground, and which we need to manage safely for the long term.

Low level radioactive waste is already being safely disposed of at the LLW Repository Site in Cumbria. But for higher activity waste, an additional disposal method is needed. UK Government policy is to construct a GDF, where higher-activity waste will be put hundreds of metres deep underground using the earth’s stable geology to protect and contain the waste over many thousands of years. It is internationally recognised as the safest long-term solution for this type of waste.

The GDF project to construct and operate the facility will create thousands of jobs and guaranteed investment for the community that agrees to host it. The search for a suitable site will be undertaken in partnership with communities to jointly explore the potential implications and benefits for them before they take a decision about whether to support a local facility. A GDF cannot be built without the consent of a local community.

What work has been undertaken to engage communities so far?

We follow a six-step engagement process with potential host communities:

Communities can withdraw from the process at any point and a GDF will not be built without a test of public support. The last year has seen much progress, with four communities completing the Working Group phase and establishing Community Partnerships. These are:

A Community Partnership is a longer-term group intended to be the key vehicle for community dialogue with Nuclear Waste Services as they facilitate discussions with the community, develop a programme of activities to develop community understanding and find answers to public questions, monitor public opinion, identify priorities for community investment funding and develop a community vision for the long term. Their conversations with local people are now expected to extend over a number of years as the suitability of each site is considered. Community Partnerships can have independent Chairs and are responsible for the recruitment of the members they require to effectively engage their local communities and properly assess whether a GDF could be right for them.

The construction and operation of a GDF will span many decades and lead to investment in infrastructure and the creation of thousands of highly-skilled jobs.

The formation of a Community Partnership unlocks £1 million per year of community investment funding for initiatives supporting the community, for example improving community wellbeing, or enhancing the local environment. For communities which proceed to the next more intensive phase of site characterisation, this will rise to £2.5 million per year.

How does it help contribute towards the delivery of the NDA group’s mission?

NDA sites account for around 90% of the radioactive waste that needs to be managed to deliver the UK’s decommissioning programme. Medical, research and defence programmes also create some waste and the NDA group is responsible for ensuring that we have the appropriate radioactive waste management strategy in place for all of this material. This includes the appropriate treatment and disposal routes. A GDF is required to be able to complete the NDA’s wider mission. It will provide a permanent solution for higher activity waste and its construction will be one of the UK’s largest environmental and infrastructure programmes.

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