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Copeland GDF Working Group formed to discuss geological disposal of radioactive waste

November 4, 2020

Today in Copeland, a Working Group has been formed to start local engagement on whether Copeland could be a suitable location for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for UK higher activity radioactive waste.

This is the first stage of the search for a suitable site and to understand the views of people across Copeland regarding the possible hosting of a GDF. The Working Group, which will include Copeland Borough Council and Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), will begin to engage with people in Copeland to canvass and listen to their views. It will not be making any commitments on the siting of a GDF.

Establishing a Working Group is just the starting point for engaging with the community in a process that will take several years. It does not presuppose support for any potential site; it’s about starting work to see if there are any areas that would be worth investigating further. If there are, any decisions made will be subject to community support.

The Working Group will engage citizens across the community to begin to understand their views, identify and propose a Search Area for further consideration in the search for potentially suitable sites and a willing host community. Another task for the Working Group is to recruit initial members for a Community Partnership, that along with RWM, could take the process further forward.

Mark Cullinan, independent Chair of the Copeland GDF Working Group, said: “Today marks the first step in a journey of several years, to determine whether a Geological Disposal Facility is right for Copeland. The infrastructure investment potential represented by such a facility could be transformational for the eventual host community – both directly through the construction and operation of the GDF and also potentially significant multi-million pounds of additional investment – but, of course, it would have to be right for the area.

“I’m delighted to be joining the Copeland GDF Working Group as its independent Chair, as we begin to talk to local people to understand the issues and opportunities and listen to their views.”

Members of the Working Group include an independent Chair along with representatives from the three interested parties, RWM and Copeland Borough Council.  Other groups and bodies could be invited to join, including representatives from the Cumbria Association of Local Councils (CALC).

The geographical area to be discussed will initially cover the whole of Copeland borough, but would exclude the Lake District National Park at the request of Copeland Borough Council and the three interested parties. The potential for underground facilities off the coast, accessed from land, will also be considered.

Councillor David Moore, Copeland Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Nuclear Services, said: “Copeland Council’s participation in the Working Group means that the council, on behalf of our whole community, will play a key role in the process to establish whether there is a suitable location and willing host community for a GDF in Copeland.

“Regardless of a final location for a GDF, the Copeland community is affected fundamentally as the vast majority of materials that would go for disposal are located here, and the Sellafield site will be at the front end of the operational phase for decades to come.

“The fact that there are interested parties within the borough and now on the Working Group means that the time is right for Copeland – as a borough – to enter into the dialogue too.

“We set out our stall that the Lake District National Park should be excluded from any consideration, and I am pleased that this exclusion is fully established in the Working Group’s scope from the outset.

“If there is a potentially suitable location and the process is taken forward, it would absolutely require the community’s support before any decisions were made.”

Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, said: “Most of the material that would go into the GDF is already based here in Sellafield.  A permanent place to deposit this material in Copeland would not only build on our heritage as the country’s nuclear experts, but it would also lay the ground for significant future investment in the region.

“A GDF will be one of the biggest environmental protection projects of our lifetime. It will also be one of the largest planned infrastructure investments over the next 100 years, and the opportunity to host it here is one that we simply have to look at.

We need to look at a GDF in parallel with research and development into the future of nuclear materials at Sellafield and future nuclear power generation for West Cumbria, including new reactor technologies.”

All engagement information can be found at:


Media Contacts

Andrew Clarke – Copeland Borough Council
Mobile: 07791039543

Duncan Flint – RWM

Mobile: 07803495577


Notes to editors

  1. A GDF would be made up of highly engineered vaults located deep underground designed to protect people and the environment and keep the radioactive waste safe and secure while the radioactivity naturally decays to safe levels.
  2. Successive UK Governments, supported by scientific advice, agree that this is the right long-term solution for our higher activity radioactive waste, and there is overwhelming international consensus, with similar programmes now underway in Canada, Finland, France, Sweden and Switzerland
  3. The independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management recommends that geological disposal, coupled with safe and secure interim storage, is the best available approach for the long-term management of the UK’s higher activity radioactive waste.
  4. The search for a host community is a nationwide process, based on community consent, and includes detailed investigations to make sure there is a suitable site to construct a safe and secure GDF. If the independent regulators don’t agree that a GDF can be designed, constructed and operated safely and securely in a location, then it won’t be built.

About the Copeland Working Group and the GDF siting process

The Working Group in Copeland is made up of individuals and organisations who asked RWM to consider whether a GDF could be located in the area, an independent Chair, independent facilitator, RWM, and others such as Local Authorities from the area. The group will begin local discussions and fact-finding with the community.

Mark Cullinan is the independent Chair of the Copeland GDF Working Group. A former Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council. Mark is an experienced Chair, Executive and Non-Executive Director, and brings over thirty years of experience in public service leadership to his role as Chair. His background is particularly in environmental, economic and social issues. He is currently Chair of Impact Housing Cumbria and the Riverside Charitable Trust, and Deputy Chair of the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Trust and of St John’s Hospice (North Lancashire and South Cumbria). He previously served as Chair of the Lancashire Children and Young People’s Trust.

Establishing a Working Group is just the starting point for engaging with the community, in a process that will take several years. The Working Group will identify and propose a Search Area for further consideration in the search for potentially suitable sites, engage citizens across the community to begin to understand their views, and recruit initial members for a Community Partnership with RWM that could take the process further forward.

Setting up the longer-term Community Partnership will trigger access to an immediate £1 million per year of community investment funding, available for projects and initiatives that drive economic development of the area, improve the local environment, or community well-being.

This figure will increase to £2.5 million per year per community if deep borehole drilling investigations are undertaken, but the major benefit is how a GDF might help the community’s very long-term vision for itself. A key task for the Community Partnership therefore will be developing that vision, which can underpin future significant additional investment in the community that succeeds in hosting a GDF.

The relevant Principal Local Authorities on the Community Partnership can agree to withdraw the community at any point.  When ready, the relevant Principal Local Authorities on the Community Partnership will decide on a timeframe for seeking community agreement through a Test of Public Support (e.g. a local referendum, a formal consultation, or statistically representative polling).

About RWM

Radioactive Waste Management, formed in 2014, is responsible for geological disposal to manage higher activity waste in England and Wales by finding a willing community and suitable site to construct and operate a UK GDF for the long-term management of higher-activity radioactive waste. RWM is a public body and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.