2 March 2024

Public to be consulted on nuclear waste storage proposal

by Rebecca Hannant

A working group has been set up to explore plans for underground nuclear waste storage in South Holderness.

The Nuclear Waste Services group brings together the UK’s leading nuclear waste management capabilities and is part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority group, which has a collective long-term mission to clean up nuclear sites safely, securely and cost-effectively. It plans to scope opinion on a potential consent-based Geographical Dispersal Facility in the region.

A GDF is an internationally recognised programme which has been supported by world governments and scientists as the only viable permanent solution for the safe disposal of higher-activity radioactive waste in the long-term.

It involves isolating nuclear waste deep underground in suitable geological formations, placing it in highly engineered vaults and tunnels, keeping the waste safe and secure over the many thousands of years it will take for the radioactivity to naturally reduce.

GDFs are currently being built in countries such as Canada, France and Switzerland.

The UK currently has several nuclear waste sites, but they need constant maintenance to ensure they are safe and well managed. A GDF will ensure that the nuclear waste can be encased in underground rock, clay and soil formations, creating a natural barrier which needs no maintenance. To ensure the facility is effective, solid prepackaged nuclear waste would be transported to the site and placed underground between 200 and 1,000 metres deep.

NWS is engaging with three other communities across England about what hosting a GDF would involve – two in Cumbria, Mid Copeland and South Copeland; and one in Lincolnshire around Theddlethorpe. South Holderness marks the fourth location under consultation. All locations have been identified as having geology suitable for the project, but only one will be selected.

NWS has launched a South Holderness GDF working group, which it says is the starting point for a conversation with the local community.

The role of the working group is to understand the local area and identify an initial search area for further consideration. The NWS is also keen to state that while this project has been backed by East Riding Council and Invest East Yorkshire, the project will only go ahead with the support of the community.

Each working group will have an independent chairman who is responsible for distributing information about the project.

The entire project is expected to last 175 years – but it is not expected to be up and running for another 15 years. The working group is expected to be ongoing for up to nine months.

While NWS says that the community engagement programme is not an indication that the project will be launched in the area, the group is keen to engage with the community and find out about any questions or issues people may have.

At present it is unclear how opinions will be collected by NWS, and at this stage all feedback is solely for benefit of NWS and communities in identifying a suitable location. Once a “test of public support has taken place” and all the consent and permits have been agreed, it will go ahead subject to non-withdrawal. The selected community for the project would also benefit from investment in local services, and boosts to infrastructure such as roads and rail. The project would also benefit the economy with the addition of thousands of new jobs.

As part of the investment opportunities in the area, the NWS says that the area chosen for the GDF would benefit from a £1 million infrastructure investment rising to £2.5 million once the project is running.

Steve Reece of NWS said during the a briefing at Ergo in Hessle yesterday that this could benefit the local community in several ways, including developing road networks, housing, schools and libraries. The development could also help local facilities including village halls, and environmental spaces such as parks, footpaths and cycle routes.

The transportation of the nuclear waste is key to the project with the waste needed to be transported via rail or via shipping. Mr Reece said that if the project was to go ahead in the area, Holderness could benefit from new/adapted rail links.

NWS CEO Corhyn Parr said: “We are delighted to see the formation of the South Holderness GDF Working Group. South Holderness joins three other communities involved in the GDF siting process who are already learning more about this vital project and the benefits and opportunities it could bring, such as the creation of thousands of jobs and opportunities for investment in local infrastructure.

“We are looking forward to meeting local people, providing more information, answering questions, and listening to all views. This is a consent-based process, meaning if the community does not express support for a GDF it won’t be built there.”

Dr David Richards, independent chairman of the working group, said: “The South Holderness GDF Working Group marks the beginning of finding out more about what a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) is and gives our community an opportunity to share their thoughts about what it means for them.

“We want to work with local communities to discuss the potential of a GDF and the establishment of a Community Partnership, which if formed would benefit local good causes through grants of up to £1 million per year.

“My role as chairman is to make sure local communities have access to information and to understand what people think about a GDF. We look forward to meeting local people and listening to their views.”

Councillor Anne Handley, leader of East Riding Council, said: “East Riding Council has today accepted the invitation to join the South Holderness GDF Working Group, which is the first step to opening discussions with the community about whether a GDF would be right for the area.

“Understanding what a GDF is and exploring the associated benefits is critical to the decision-making process for any community, because it will ultimately be the local community who decide.” As part of the ongoing community consultation, the NWS will host a series of pop-in centres where the public can attend to find out more information about the project. The group will host pop-in centres across the area on the following days and times.

  • Thursday, February 1: Patrington Village Hall, 11.30am to 6pm
  • Friday, February 2: The Shores Centre, Withernsea, 11.30am to 6pm
  • Thursday, February 8: Aldbrough Village Hall, 11.30am to 6pm
  • Friday, February 9: Easington Community Hall, 11.30am to 6pm
  • Monday, February 12: Burstwick Village Hall, 11.30am to 6pm

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart said: “I have an open mind and I’m looking forward to hearing what the chairman of the Delivery Group, Dr David Richards, has to say.

“In fact, as soon as I heard the news I immediately got on the phone to his office, and will speak to him at 2pm today. I’ll update you without fail later this afternoon.

“I have plenty of questions for him, and I’m sure you do too.

“I’ll be asking for a copper-bottomed guarantee that nothing would happen without public consent.

“I’ll be asking about how the community fund of up to £1 million a year would be delivered – making sure it would be for the benefit of Withernsea and Holderness. And I’ll be asking how long the consultation would last.

“I’ll be fighting for Holderness on this.”

To find out more about Geological Disposal visit gov.uk/guidance/geological-disposal or to find out more about the NWS visit nuclearwasteservices.uk