A Geological Disposal Facility, or GDF, is an underground facility with specially engineered vaults and tunnels designed to permanently and securely dispose of nuclear waste. Packages arrive by rail at the GDF surface facility and are transferred deep underground.
The purpose-built above ground facilities where the UK currently keeps radioactive waste are designed to be safe for around 100 years, and do not provide a permanent solution. They need to be continually monitored to keep the waste secure and periodically refurbished while the radioactivity naturally decays.
For some of the waste this will take many thousands of years, so even if well maintained, eventually, they will need to be replaced, or the waste moved elsewhere. Surface storage is also vulnerable to natural and human effects.
A GDF will be a network of tunnels and vaults hundreds of metres below the surface.
It will use a series of natural and engineered barriers to keep the waste safe and away from people and the environment, with hundreds of metres of rock providing the final barrier.
When faced with a scientific challenge of this magnitude we look to the natural world for answers. International scientists and engineers took inspiration from geology and fossils to design a safe and long-lasting solution.
Solid waste in glass form or mixed with grout and cement is placed within robust, engineered containers. These containers are typically made of metal or concrete, and are surrounded by clay or cement backfill.
Hundreds of metres of stable rock then form the final barrier between these containers and the surface.
After decades of scientific research, leading scientists across the globe agree a GDF is the best solution for disposing of higher-activity nuclear waste for the long term.
Finland is already building a GDF, called Onkalo, which will begin to receive waste from 2024. Sweden, France, Canada and Switzerland are also developing GDFs. Learning is shared between countries to ensure we are creating the best solution for nuclear waste now and in the future.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency will review the designs for a GDF, the proposed site, and the science that informs them, to make sure it protects people and the environment. A GDF will only be built if it can meet these criteria. You can find further help and advice on these independent regulators’ websites:
There are many things to consider when selecting the location of a GDF, but having a GDF in the UK will create jobs and guaranteed investment for the host community.
A GDF will be a network of tunnels and vaults hundreds of metres below the surface. It will use a series of natural and engineered barriers to keep the waste safe and away from people and the environment, with hundreds of metres of rock providing the final barrier.
Take a trip 1km underground, several decades from now, to explore a Geological Disposal Facility.
Learn more about a GDF from our nuclear experts.
Please explore the documents below for further information on geological disposal.
Please note that the 'GDF – Creating Jobs & Skills: A First Look' report provides a national picture and is not specific to any region. NWS is commissioning further detailed analysis to understand the requirements for specific regions.