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Our community's role is important, wherever a GDF is eventually located

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Waste management
Mike Starkie in Whitehaven
Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie

We have a significant role to play

I’d like to thank the GDF Working Group for inviting me to share my views on this vitally important process currently taking place in Copeland.

The work that is under way to assess whether there is a willing host community and suitable place in our locality to accommodate a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) is of significant national importance and, quite rightly, is attracting substantial interest and opinion. But what is not up for debate is that the Copeland borough has a significant role to play in this process, regardless of the final location of a GDF in England or Wales.

As the host borough of the Sellafield site, Copeland is home to the vast majority of the inventory identified for disposal in a GDF. Once a GDF becomes available – wherever it is – activity at Sellafield will change as the site becomes the front-end of GDF operations, thereby having major implications for our local area.

Obligation to engage

It is our obligation to our people, communities and environment to engage in the process and, on this basis and after a process of strategic analysis, Copeland Council reached the decision last year to join the Copeland GDF Working Group as an Interested Party.

We have been pleased to engage in the ‘working with communities’ process, led by Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), that has taken place thus far, and I’d like to publicly recognise the hard work being carried out by Chair Mark Cullinan and his Working Group colleagues, including Copeland Council’s Deputy Mayor David Moore and our council officers. However, it is important to note that our involvement does not imply that a GDF will be built in Copeland.

Understanding your views

The role of the Working Group is to identify a search area to be explored in more detail in terms of suitability, and to start to understand the views of the local community. This is absolutely key, and I am encouraging all Copeland residents to get involved in the process now by engaging with the Working Group via the various channels available.

At the potential next stage of forming a Community Partnership, this stakeholder engagement will intensify and it is vital that the voice of the community is represented in decisions about if – and how – a GDF fits into the vision for Copeland’s future, and stakeholders from the wider community would have the opportunity to get involved as members of the partnership.

This process is to find both a suitable site and a willing host community, and no decisions about whether or not to host a GDF will be taken without a future test of public support. But now is the time to get involved, to help shape the process from this initial stage until it reaches its conclusion; whatever that conclusion may be.


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  1. Comment by Peter Atkinson posted on

    The Copeland Working Group is exploring the possibility of Copeland being a suitable site for a GDF.
    How can they look at the suitability of Copeland when no area has been identified as geologically suitable? As I understand the situation, there is an ongoing national geological survey underway to identify suitable geology for the siting of a GDF.
    In the national survey, areas were to be excluded if they contained hydrocarbon deposits. The off-shore area adjacent to Copeland has been earmarked for a coal mine and to the South, licences have been granted for gas/oil exploration. The Copeland group has included these areas on their map.
    I'm not sure how the working group can be doing any "exploring" in the absence of any published geological data.
    I have made contributions to the several surveys of public opinion regarding this matter and am left wondering if my contributions were ever considered.

    • Replies to Peter Atkinson>

      Comment by Radioactive Waste Management posted on

      A GDF will be built at a depth of up to 1,000 metres and while much is understood about the UK's geology, far less is known at such depths. In 2016, RWM commissioned a national screening exercise which was carried out by the independent British Geological Survey and the results published in 2018:

      This was based on existing information and confirmed that much of the country's geology has potential for development of a GDF. However, the reports are intended only as a guide to begin discussions in communities wishing to discuss the possibility of hosting a GDF. More detailed and wide-ranging investigations would be needed over a period of years to understand the full characteristics of a potential location at the required depths.

  2. Comment by Simon Burdis posted on

    Many people in Cumbria oppose the dumping of dangerous toxic radioactive waste under the county, Lake District National Park or the Irish Sea.
    It is my understanding that the NIREX investigations of the 1970s and '80s established that the geology of most of the entire area was complex and unstable and therefore entirely unsuitable for the storage / disposal of nuclear waste.
    It is clearly not sensible to open a new coalmine in the same area in view of the risk of induced seismic activity.
    There was also concern that however well the nuclear waste was contained, it was inevitable that radioactivity would percolate to the surface via tiny rock fissures and / or via water movement / micro organisms risking contamination of the water cycle and food chain.
    The priority has to be a coherent plan for the managed closure of the civilian and military nuclear industries and the reduction to as near zero as possible of the production of nuclear waste.
    If we are serious about the climate emergency, then the solution is not nuclear as nuclear is part of the problem, not the solution.
    When the full nuclear fuel cycle is taken into consideration and the vast quantities of carbon-rich fuels burned servicing the needs of the nuclear industries, then nuclear is rendered a fossil fuel by proxy.

    • Replies to Simon Burdis>

      Comment by Radioactive Waste Management posted on

      The UK has a legacy of radioactive waste that has accumulated since the post-war years. The vast bulk has low levels of radioactivity which can be treated and disposed of at a range of existing facilities. For the higher-activity material, international scientific consensus recommends disposal in an engineered facility deep underground, where stable rock formations will provide safe containment for tens of thousands of years, and many countries are taking this approach including the UK. Currently, higher-activity radioactive waste is held in surface stores around the country that must be monitored, maintained, repaired and eventually replaced. A GDF represents a permanent solution. The multiple barriers of a GDF are designed to safely contain and isolate the waste, ensuring that no harmful levels of radiation ever reach the surface.

      The NIREX process examined a single location in west Cumbria and reached the stage of proposing an underground rock lab, however, the process was discontinued before all of the test data and rock and groundwater samples from the deep borehole investigations were fully analysed.

      While two west Cumbrian groups have embarked on discussions about the possibility of hosting a GDF, a search area has yet to be identified. Exhaustive investigations would be required over a period of years to confirm whether a prospective location could be suitable. These would take into account any nearby resources that might be exploited in the future such as coal, oil or minerals, as well as any potential for seismic activity.