Geological disposal is being adopted by a number of countries as a solution for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste.
The Partnership looked at overseas experience as part of its work to help it better understand issues such as:
Finland and Sweden both applied voluntary processes to find suitable sites. In each case, development work and consultation has been carried out over a long period of time.
In Finland, an underground rock characterisation facility, known as ONKALO, is being built in the granite bedrock a few miles from Olkiluoto for research and development for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
An interesting documentary has also been made about this repository and some of the ethical issues involved. Copies of the film, Into Eternity, are available to buy on Amazon and can be rented in iTunes. You can view a trailer of the film here. DVD copies of the documentary are also available to rent in the libraries in Whitehaven, Workington, Carlisle, Penrith, Kendal and Barrow.
At Forsmark in Sweden, groundworks will soon be underway after a voluntary process in which two communities volunteered to host the repository. An application has now been submitted for a construction licence for a geological disposal facility at this site.
At Bure in North East France, the French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA) has also been testing geology and technologies to contain radioactive waste in an underground facility.
Members of the Partnership visited this facility in September 2011. The group descended 1,600 feet into the Meuse/Haute-Marne underground research laboratory which has been built to test the suitability of the area.
It was an opportunity to see what lessons can be learnt and what construction looks like above ground while detailed investigations into potential site suitability are taking place. The team also met with local people and talked to them about the role they feel the community has been able to play in shaping the work that is being done there. A report from this visit is available here.
The U.S. already has an operational geological disposal facility at Carlsbad, New Mexico. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, began disposal operations in March 1999. It disposes of defence-related waste. The Partnership had a meeting about the WIPP site, consisting of a series of presentations and discussions by video links.
This gave Partnership members the chance to find out more about the facility and to talk to some of those involved in running the site as well as members of the local community. A report from this virtual visit is available here.
However, plans for the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada have been more controversial. President Obama decided to stop work on the repository shortly after he was elected and, following consideration of the options by the Blue Ribbon Commission, discussions are taking place about what should happen to America’s non-military radioactive wastes.
Canada’s radioactive waste management organisation (NWMO) has been seeking expressions of interest from volunteer communities to hold discussions about hosting a deep geological facility to provide safe and secure long-term containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel produced in Canada. Canada already has a deep geological repository for low level waste at Kincardine.
There has been interest from a high number of communities and NWMO has now stopped any further expressions of interest to enable them to concentrate on conducting the detailed studies required in those communities and to work with surrounding communities.
In Switzerland the National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (known as NAGRA) is involved in the regional participation stage of finding a site for a deep geological repository. The process is expected to end in around ten years with the granting of the required general licences for a high-level waste repository and a low and intermediate-level waste repository.
The Partnership’s Community Benefits Sub-Group commissioned an international review of community benefits, which provides useful information about the kind of benefits packages that have been offered to communities where nuclear waste facilities have been, or are going to be, sited.
Please note - the information on this page was last updated in early 2013. Please see the relevant websites or contact the NDA for the most up to date situation in the countries that are mentioned above.