The long search for a community willing to host a £4bn underground facility to dispose permanently of Britain’s nuclear waste will resume next month.

Radioactive Waste Management, the state body responsible for developing a “geological disposal facility”, will begin a public consultation over the best way to choose somewhere at least 200 metres deep, where hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of nuclear waste could be stored for 100,000 years in a specially engineered cavern.

At the same time, RWM will start a national geological survey, the first stage in identifying a candidate site. The British Geological Survey suggests that 30 per cent of the country has rock structures suitable for containing radioactive materials without risk of their leaking out.

The detailed selection process will get going in 2017, Alun Ellis, RWM science and technology director, told a media briefing in London on Monday.

The government has said the choice must be made on the principle of “volunteerism”. The community hosting the facility must be a willing partner, attracted by the economic gains on offer. Even after the main construction phase, “the facility would bring long-term highly paid jobs”, said Mr Ellis.

“A substantial part of the UK is technically suited to hosting a geological disposal facility,” he said, “but the other half of the equation is overcoming the social and political difficulties in finding a community that wants to host it.”

The search for somewhere to dispose of Britain’s radioactive waste — which mainly comes from nuclear power stations and to a much lesser extent from medical and industrial processes — started in the 1980s.

For a long time, the most likely location was West Cumbria, close to the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant which is the country’s largest single source of nuclear waste. That option died in 2013 when Cumbria county council decided against volunteering although two district councils, Copeland and Allerdale were in favour of at least allowing geological investigations to take place.

Other countries are also finding it hard to identify a geological disposal site. Only Sweden and Finland have decided where to put their facilities. The US designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as its nuclear waste repository in 1987 but development of the facility remains in limbo, with intense opposition from environmentalists.

Scotland has opted out of the process of finding a deep disposal site for the UK as a whole and decided instead to continue storing its nuclear waste on secure ground-level sites.

But the view within government and the nuclear industry is that permanent disposal is preferable, according to Mr Ellis. “There is an intergenerational issue here,” he said. “The policy is that we are the generation who produced this waste and we should be dealing with it, rather than passing the liability on to future generations.”

The capital cost of building a geological disposal facility is estimated at £4bn up to the point when it is ready to receive its first consignment of waste — paid for by public funds. The total running cost over 100 years would be £12bn, including a contribution by operators of any new nuclear plants.

August 17, 2015 4:51 pm, Financial Times, Clive Cookson, Science Editor. As posted at: