Finding a site for a GDF will be the first community consent-based process to be undertaken in the UK for a project of this size, in a process that could take many years.
Community Partnerships have, so far, been formed in four different areas, to explore whether a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) is right for the area and whether the area is right for a GDF. The four Community Partnerships are South Copeland, Mid Copeland and Allerdale in Cumbria, and Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire.
Construction will only start when a suitable site is identified, a Potential Host Community has confirmed its willingness to host the facility through a Test of Public Support, safety for people and the environment has been assured by The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency, and all the necessary consents and permits have been obtained. This decision could take 10-15 years. It is assumed that a GDF could be available to receive the first waste in the 2050s. Filling a GDF with waste and then closing it, once full, will run into the next century.
The Copeland GDF Working Group identified two Search Areas looking at readily available information on the local geology, environmental issues, transport infrastructure and safety – plus gathering people’s views and using information from previous work in the area. The Search Areas identified were South Copeland and Mid Copeland.
A Search Area is the geographical area within which the GDF developer would undertake studies and consider potential sites. Search Areas have to be defined by district council or unitary authority electoral ward boundaries.
This Community Partnership is for the South Copeland Search Area, which initially included the electoral wards of Millom and Black Combe & Scafell. However, from April 1 2023, the South Copeland Search Area had to change its boundary due to Local Government Reorganisation when the electoral ward boundaries of Copeland Borough Council ceased to exist.
The new wards follow the same boundaries as the Cumberland Council divisions. This means the South Copeland Search Area covers the electoral division of Millom and Millom Without.
Drigg and Carleton, and Irton with Santon, which were previously a part of the Mid Copeland Search Area, now sit in the Millom Without ward and are instead in the South Copeland Search Area.
The area within the Lake District National Park (LDNP) and proposed Southern Boundary Extension will continue to be excluded from consideration.
Deep geology beyond the coast (known as the ‘inshore area’) is being considered for the siting of the underground elements of a GDF and the Working Group recommended that the focus should begin in this area.
A 1sq km surface facility on the coast would provide access to a disposal area deep in the rock beyond the coast.
The GDF developer commissioned Marine Geophysical Surveys to gather evidence about the deep rocks in an area off the coast of Copeland took place in summer 2022. They have now commissioned a programme of desk-based studies to start to understand the local area in more detail. These studies will aid NWS in determining the feasibility of delivering a GDF within the South Copeland Search Area.
Most of the area under consideration is discussed in the Northern England subregion 4 section of the National Geological Screening for a GDF.
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What is a Potential Host Community?
The Potential Host Community is the community within a geographical area that could potentially host a GDF. It will be identified over time from within a Search Area. The Potential Host Community will be defined using district, or unitary council electoral ward boundaries, depending on the administrative arrangements in place in the area. The Government’s view is that only residents in the area that will be directly impacted by the development should have a final say in whether they wish to host a GDF. It will be the people living in the Potential Host Community, through a Test of Public Support, that will decide whether they want to continue with the process for siting a GDF in the area.
What is a Test of Public Support?
Before NWS seeks regulatory approval or development consent to begin construction of a GDF, there must be a Test of Public Support to determine whether the local community is willing to host a GDF. It is anticipated that this will only be undertaken once there is enough information to present a clear proposal to the community to base a decision around. If the Relevant Principal Local Authorities agree that it is an appropriate time to seek the community’s view on whether or not it wishes to host a GDF, then the method for taking that Test of Public Support will be decided by the Community Partnership.