Former gas terminal earmarked for radwaste disposal

A government agency says it is in ‘early-stage discussions’ for building a radioactive waste repository underneath what was once the Theddlethorpe gas terminal in Lincolnshire.

Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) revealed earlier this week that it is talking to Lincolnshire County Council about a permanent underground geological disposal facility (GDF) for radioactive waste at the site. The government has been seeking a location for one for many years.

The terminal was closed in 2018, having been the receiving point for natural gas from the Viking, Vixen, Boulton and many other fields. The connecting pipelines have since been flushed and disconnected. Demolition of the above-ground infrastructure is due to be completed this year. The site had been expected to be returned to agricultural use.

RWM, which forms part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said it has asked the council if it is interested in forming a local working group, as part of the national project to find a suitable location for the safe and secure disposal of radioactive waste. It emphasised that absolutely no decision has been taken at this stage.

“In our discussions with Lincolnshire County Council the former Theddlethorpe gas terminal has been identified as a possible site of interest, and in particular the geology deep below the seabed, a few miles off the coast, as one potential location. We would like to engage with the local community to hear their thoughts and views. And we recognise that there could be other potential locations for surface facilities that could lead out to the same geology deep beneath the seabed,” said Steve Reece, the body’s head of siting.

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“This is an enormous infrastructure project, worth billions of pounds – one that would bring thousands of jobs for multiple generations as well as the significant investment needed for supporting infrastructure in the area where a GDF is built,” he added. RWM explained further in a video released last year.

The government said in 2014 that communities would be paid £1m a year to be involved in discussions, rising to £2.5m if exploratory boreholes are drilled. A revised planning framework for a GDF followed in 2019.

Giving the final go-ahead for construction requires community consent, to be assessed through a local referendum. Council leader Martin Hill said the result would be binding: “If it's a no, that's the end of it.”

“It could be a massive economic injection to the area, lots of jobs and better protection of the coast, because we know there is a big issue all down that coast in terms of defence [from erosion]. On the other hand, we are dealing with a very controversial product and there’s all sorts of questions,” he told the BBC.

A GDF would store waste in tunnels and vaults cut into the rock up to a kilometre underground, holding it over thousands of years until radioactivity no longer poses a threat to people or the environment. RWM describes it as a “significant national infrastructure project”. Most of the waste would be from nuclear power stations but it would also be derived from medical, industrial, scientific and military activities.

Working parties have already been formed by Copeland Borough Council, the local authority for Sellafield, and Allerdale Borough Council just to the north. RWM remains open to further approaches.

RWM assumes that the GDF, wherever it may be, would be up and running from the 2040s, remaining active well into the next century. It would replace around 20 surface storage facilities, which it says do not provide a permanent solution: “They need to be continually monitored to keep the waste secure and periodically refurbished to prevent the waste from being exposed to the effects of the weather. Eventually, they will need to be replaced, or the waste moved elsewhere. Surface storage is therefore less safe than geological disposal for the long term, and would end up being much more labour intensive and costly in the long run.”

Construction would only begin after required consents and permits have been obtained.

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