Anti-GDF Outcry in Ireland, Wales & England

i Apr 14th 4 Comments by

With Britain in sensitive Brexit discussions about the Irish border ‘backstop’, the GDF may have inadvertently become a new diplomatic point of contention between the two countries.

This is one of several running stories in the UK media this week, that underline the complexities and sensitivities of finding a site for a geological disposal facility:

There is a common thread running through these stories, of people rushing to judgement and hyperbole before checking their facts. For example, the reaction in Northern Ireland was driven by an otherwise-innocuous RWM information video describing geological features of the County Armagh area. There are similar short videos for every region of England, Wales and N Ireland.

A local newspaper decided to fact-check the allegations that the British government was considering an area near Newry for nuclear waste disposal.  The newspaper concluded that while the claims have elements of truth, they also have elements of falsehood, saying: “Preliminary work has been carried out to see if the site in Northern Ireland could work, but we are far, far away from a GDF in the North being a reality given how much would have to happen before it could be built.”

This, more nuanced view, was also expressed by an Irish politician living just across the border.  Fine Gael councillor for Dundalk,  John McGahon, said the initial report was likely nothing more than a “fishing expedition”, that the probability of any plan being approved was “extremely remote”, that it was important politicians on both sides of the Border were not “asleep on the issue”, but equally that local representatives did not engage in “scaremongering”.

The reactions, particularly in Wales and in N Ireland, were predictable, and are wholly understandable, particularly in the context of nationalist politics. However, they also underline some other common themes underpinning media coverage and political reaction, eg:

  • providing technical information on its own is a necessary but is not a sufficient basis to enable mature public discussion
  • catching people ‘cold’ is not the best way to introduce the subject or build understanding – it is a recipe for immediate rejection
  • there is in-built underlying distrust of the UK Government and its agents, and of anything they say – it is going to take time to build trust and confidence

This week has seen the first salvos in what will become a prolonged period of media, public and political discussion. The initial media and political reaction was to be expected. It will now be interesting to see how RWM accommodates anticipatable reactions and moves forward to construct a more positive environment in which to nurture informed public debate.

A full list of UK media articles can be found in our international news pages.


  1. Colin Megson
    11th February 2019 at 11:10 am

    A GDF is a most unlikely choice, with 3 reuse options on the table and a 4th one, likely to be in action quite soon, which will surely be added to the list.

    By the mid-2020s, Ed Pheil’s Gen IV, Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor [MCSFR] may well be using Savannah River’s plutonium stockpile as fuel, to generate low-carbon electricity.

    It will also be in contention to use the UK’s 140 tonne of plutonium in the same manner, before moving on to Spent Nuclear Fuel [SNF] – 7000 tonnes and Depleted Uranium [DU] where we will end up with 200,000 tonnes.

    A fleet of super-safe MCSFRs, with their Emergency Planning Zones [EPZs] at the boundary fences of their tiny sites, can use these precious resources to supply ALL of the UK’s low-carbon energy needs – electricity; process heat; carbon-neutral synthetic fuels; ammonia feedstock for fertilisers – for well over 500 years.

    That’s unparalleled levels of energy security and independence for many generations to come, with the prospects of maintaining our social order and lifestyle in a rapidly changing, energy-hungry world.

    The waste stream from these reactors decays to the radioactivity level of the ground beneath our feet in only 300 years; easily, safely and cheaply stored.

    • rpayne
      17th March 2019 at 11:58 am

      Part of RWM’s mission is to keep new technologies and alternatives under review. The IAEA have recently published a report on deep borehole drilling as an alternative to a GDF. While we all hope science can find a better answer to the radioactive waste issue, until that time comes (if it ever does) it is prudent and ethically and environmentally responsible to continue working on a solution (GDF) until a better answer comes along (if it ever does).

  2. Dr Timothy Norris
    11th February 2019 at 12:58 pm

    London is built on clay that has geological plasticity and stable in respect of time. How about storing the nuclear waste in an underground repository under London. After all, it is in urban areas that the power from nuclear power was largely consumed, so it is only reasonable that these urban areas take responsibility for their corresponding waste by storing the waste. Thus, the deep underground repository should be built in clay deposits under London, and this should be suggested to UK Government.

    • rpayne
      12th February 2019 at 9:16 am

      No reason it can’t be under London, as anywhere else. Key to this is public willingness. Scientists and politicians picking a location has repeatedly failed. International best practice is now based on securing the host community’s ‘consent’. London certainly appears to have good geology, but the days of “we know best” decision-making by scientists and politicians (even if they do know best!) are gone for finding a geological disposal facility site.


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