Underground or overground?

Geological disposal of radioactive waste


Nuclear waste capsules.

A couple of weeks ago, the UK government published a White Paper, setting out a revised process for disposing of our radioactive waste. You can read our response to it here.

Of all the weird and wonderful things geologists get up to, disposing of radioactive waste may not seem the most glamorous – but it’s one of the most important. Since the UK began producing nuclear power in the 1950s, we’ve generated hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste, the majority of which is currently being stored at the surface.

As well as being a health threat, the waste could be used to create nuclear weapons and, if it stays at the surface, will need to be constantly managed, imposing a burden on many generations to come.

A number of solutions have been considered, from disposing of the waste in space, to placing it in subduction zones – both of which have been discounted. Geological disposal has long been the proposed solution to the problem – bury the waste in a purpose built repository deep enough and safe enough that further management won’t be needed.

So, we’re going to bury it somewhere it will be secure enough that future generations won’t have to worry about it. But where?

Earlier this year, Rebecca Lunn, who is currently a member of the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), gave a talk at the Society on the ins and outs of how site selection has worked so far, and why we are still looking for a suitable site for disposal. She also featured in our podcast series – you can listen to the interview here.

We also heard from Neil Chapman about the risks that need to be taken into account when disposing of the waste, from tsunamis to rock shearing, and what they mean for the future of the UK’s nuclear industry – listen to his podcast here, or watch the full lecture below.

So, what’s the solution? We’d love to hear your thoughts on what, if anything, we should do with our radioactive waste….

  • For all the ins and outs of radioactive waste disposal, and the role of geologists, visit our website, where you can find Geoscientist articles, meeting reports, position statements and other relevant information.

One thought on “Underground or overground?

  1. It doesn’t matter is it underground or overground, result for us will not have a happy end. First of all, water. What will happen to water? Yes, future generations, it is very important, but if we dont decide what to do with all this waste today, there will not be any future generations. That is the question.

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