Nuclear waste disposal in West Cumbria

Document Library


Papers and slideshows by David Smythe


These are all in pdf form, in reverse chronological order.


Response to the Siting Review consultation. (December 2013). My response shows that DECC has manipulated the 185 responses to the earlier Call for Evidence consultation which ended in June 2013. I obtained DECC's own internal analysis of these, a 'theme-definition' spreadsheet and a 'trending themes' table. I collated the 99 individual responses and 86 corporate/institutional responses, as published by DECC in redacted form, into two separate pdfs, which can be text-searched. Further details are given here.


Reply to Bruce Yardley by the two professors. (December 2013). Professor Bruce Yardley criticised myself and Stuart Haszeldine in a Geological Society magazine article in April 2013, claiming that we were mere campaigners and not proper scientists. Our response was published in December 2013 in the same magazine. There are also references and supplementary comments from myself and Haszeldine. The danger of people like Yardley is that he pontificates without having done the necessary background research first. But he is seen by lay people as being authoritative - and he says what government wants to hear.


Comments by the two professors. This is a short summary (27 January 2013) of the views of myself and Stuart Haszeldine as sent to the cabinet members of Cumbria County Council, Allerdale BC and Copeland BC ahead of their decisions on 30 January 2013.


The voluntarism process in Canada. This short slideshow (January 2013) demonstrates that the Canadian process of site search is not applicable to the UK; however there are lessons to be drawn for the UK from the Canadian method.


The Ennerdale granite. (January 2013, updated from the version of October 2012) This granite has been mentioned informally as a possible site for waste disposal. It is coupled to the ludicrous suggestion that development of the underground repository could be achieved by 10 km-long tunnels bored directly from Sellafield (or, more likely, from Longlands Farm). This slideshow demonstrates that the idea is ill-conceived. Apart from the serious geological shortcomings, Ennerdale would have to be taken out of the National Park and parts of it turned into a high-security industrial zone.


Why the current MRWS process should not proceed to Stage 4. This non-technical summary was prepared for the ad hoc group of Cumbrians MPs who met on 10 January 2013.


Slideshows of lectures given in Maryport (21 Nov 2012), discussing both Allerdale and Ennerdale, and in Silloth (22 Nov 2012), concentrating on Allerdale.


The KBS-3 problem. (November 2012). The Swedish concept of emplacing high-level waste in copper cylinders, which are then buried in granitic rock, has been adopted by the UK. But it does not work. This short slideshow explains why. The history of this concept shows that nuclear engineers are over-optimistic, by a factor of 10,000 or more, about the prowess of their technology in containing nuclear waste.


Slideshows of lectures given in Cockermouth (6 Sep 2012) and Calder Bridge (7 Sep 2012). Both lectures contain new information and results that have become available since I wrote my MRWS consultation response. The former lecture concentrated on the geology of Allerdale and the latter on Copeland.

Letter: Comments on Dearlove's review of the geology consultation submissions  (22 June 2012). Dr Jeremy Dearlove of FWS Consultants Ltd was asked to comment on three major geology submissions and papers; mine and that of Professor Stuart Haszeldine, together with minutes of an MRWS meeting held on 29 March 2012, at which the Lead Inquiry Inspector and his Assessor had been invited to present their views.

Transcript of BBC Radio broadcast on 23 May 2012. Dr Richard Shaw, project leader for radwaste at the British Geological Survey, was interviewed live in a short For/Against debate with Professor Stuart Haszeldine. Dr Shaw asserted that West Cumbria "offers potential" for finding a suitable site. This predetermined view, unsupported by any facts, will make it difficult for the BGS in future to come to a different conclusion if MRWS Stage 4 (desk studies) goes ahead.

Response to West Cumbria MRWS consultation: Why a deep nuclear waste repository should not be sited in Cumbria (20 Mar 2012). This is a pdf compilation of all my arguments and presentations to date, comprising 87 pages of text and 70 diagrams.

Slideshows used in public lectures in West Cumbria: Cockermouth (2 Feb 2012) and Keswick (3 Feb 2012). They are almost identical, but the latter is slightly shorter. The lectures (no sound available) are a résumé of the separate documents listed above.

Unsuitability of the Eskdale Granite as a host rock for high- and intermediate-level nuclear waste (October 2011). This paper refutes in detail Dr Dearlove's suggestion that the Eskdale granite could also be considered as a potential host rock.

The problem of rock spoil from a proposed underground nuclear waste repository in West Cumbria (October 2011). Out of the Eskdale study came the realisation that the NDA appears to be misleading and misinforming the public about the huge amount of rock spoil to be stored. This paper provides the figures.

Response to letter submitted to MRWS:Cumbria by Dr J. Dearlove (September 2011). Dr Dearlove had been commissioned by MRWS:Cumbria to review my April 2011 paper. I refute his objections (his letter is reproduced in  the paper as an appendix), particularly with regard to his suggestion that the Mercia Mudstone Group of the Solway plain area should now be considered as a potential host rock.

Why a deep nuclear waste repository should not be sited in Cumbria: a geological review (April 2011). In response to the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM ) that there is presently no credible scientific case to support the contention that all of West Cumbria is geologically unsuitable.” This paper provided a lot more detail on the local geology, supplementing my initial paper of November 2010, to refute CoRWM's case.


How is the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) analysing the geology of potential waste repositories? (January 2011). A critique of the NDA document Geological disposal: step towards implementation, showing that the geological content of this paper is derisory.


PIEDA initial list of 537 sites (January 2011). I compiled this list of the sites considered by the British Geological Survey in the late 1980s, summarised from documents I obtained under Freedom of Information. It shows that the Sellafield Longlands Farm site was never in the initial list.


Why West Cumbria is not Switzerland (January 2011). This slideshow was prepared in response to a nuclear industry geologist's critique, saying in effect that 'If a mountainous country like Switzerland can find a repository site, what's wrong with Cumbria?'

Why the whole of West Cumbria is unsuitable for a nuclear waste repository (November 2010). My initial slideshow demonstrating why the British Geological Survey's 'screening' report of October 2010 is essentially irrelevant, because the BGS had already shown that none of the region is suitable.

The 1995-96 Sellafield Public Planning Inquiry


The Inspector's report

Inspector's Report (text-searchable pdf, complete,16 Mb)

Inspector's Report in three separate parts (A, B and C) Inspector's Report conclusions.

Assessor's Report (Appendix A to the Inspector's report, pdf).

Appendix 2 (Appearances) and Appendix 3 (combined pdf)


Submissions by the Objectors

The Objectors were Cumbria County Council, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. All the Proofs of Evidence on the science were collected and published soon after the hearings as:

Radioactive waste disposal at Sellafield 
site selection, geological and engineering problems
Edited by RS Haszeldine and DK Smythe
University of Glasgow, 1996, ISBN 085261524-8.

It is available for download here.


Nirex submissions

These were on the Nirex website until about 2000, but can still be found on the Internet Archive Waybackmachine (, by searching for, then looking at an archive dated 30 May 1998, then clicking on RCF Public Inquiry Proofs of Evidence, then clicking on the Title of Proof required. I have collected here the Proofs on scientific matters, plus the Closing Submissions. The web page versions of the Proofs have been assembled into separate pdfs. The quality of reproduction of the diagrams is very low, as the original high-resolution images were never archived. I have printed versions of the Proofs in case anyone needs a high-quality copy of any of the figures.


Proofs of Evidence (S - Supplementary proof)

Science overview (Dr J. Holmes)

Science overview (S) (Dr J. Holmes)

Geology and hydrogeology (Dr R. Chaplow)

Geology and hydrogeology (S) (Dr R. Chaplow)

Repository performance (Dr. A.J. Hooper)

Repository performance (S) (Dr. A.J. Hooper)

Role of the RCF (Dr D.W. Mellor)

Scientific case for the RCF (Prof. R.K. O'Nions)

Multi-attribute decision analysis (Dr L.D. Phillips)


Closing submissions


Key papers on repository siting


Strategy for radioactive waste disposal in crystalline rocks. J. D. Bredehoeft and T. Maini (1981).


Geological environments for deep disposal of intermediate level wastes in the United Kingdom. N.A.Chapman, T.J.McEwen and H.Beale (1986).


The BGS screening report of West Cumbria, 2010

Main report text, Figs 3-14 (excl Fig. 9), Figure 9, and Non-technical summary.


Nuclear safety regulation


UK nuclear safety regulation is complacent, compared to that of France. In 2011 the governments of both countries commissioned reports to review nuclear safety in the light of Fukushima. The full reports are here:


UK Office of Nuclear Regulation final report, September 2011.

French report by the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), December 2011.


The release of the final UK report, authored by Dr Mike Weightman, was covered in The Guardian and by the BBC. An interim version had been reviewed by Greenpeace. The rather more comprehensive French report was discussed in Nature in January 2012, both in an article and in an editorial. It also received seven full pages of coverage on 4 January and 5 January in Le Monde.




The Flowers report (1976) - the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, sixth report, Nuclear power and the Environment (NB 14 Mb).


Letter from Tony Laughton to The Guardian defending marine dumping research, 23 October 1984. He became Sir Anthony Laughton in 1987, knighted for services to oceanography.

PIEDA compiled potential sites for Nirex in 1988 and 1989. The reports were confidential until 2005. Deep repository project. Land based repository site search. (a) The identification of potential sites. (b) Site listsDoc. 6038/JM. The ten shortlisted sites are described in appendices (NB this file is rather large at 14 Mb). I have compiled all the PIEDA lists into one alphabetical list.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recommended in 1999 that: "6.31 ... the first phase of site selection ... would consist of establishing qualitative criteria and using them with desk studies to identify a "long list" of, say, 15-20 potentially suitable sites. The criteria at this stage would be primarily, but not exclusively, geological and hydrogeological .... A short list of sites for possible field investigation (including the drilling of deep boreholes) would then be derived by comparing the sites on the basis of a number of attributes." This report is only available online spread over a number of web pages. I have combined them into a single pdf: HoL SciTech 3rd Report.

A Nirex technical note dated September 2000 on voluntarism in site selection was probably used to formulate the new 'voluntarist' policy of the government.

The Defra white paper of September 2001, with proposals for Managing Radioactive Waste Safely, ignored the geological site selection recommendations of the House of Lords committee two years earlier, and set up the 'voluntarist' approach instead.

Draft Nirex paper 2003, on stepwise site selection. This excellent paper was never adopted as official policy. A national geological survey was costed at £5M in today's prices. The government says that such a survey is too expensive to carry out, but DECC spent £3.4M on PR in West Cumbria in the period  2010-13.

A Nirex report to the Cabinet Office dated October 2004 on how to improve its image, and how to second-guess the CoRWM final report due 18 months later. It includes the statement that 'opinion leaders' should be "recruited and groomed".


House of Lords Report, Radioactive Waste Management Report with Evidence. Science and Technology Committee 5th Report of Session 2003-04, published 10 December 2004 (HL 200). This report was highly critical of CoRWM.


In 2005 Nirex published a review of the site selection process that led to the selection of Longlands Farm. Despite this review purportedly being in the interests of transparency, it misleads in various ways, for example, in trying to disguise the fact that the final site was never in the original list.


In late 2005 Nirex claimed that the Nirex 97 set of science documents, issued after the end of the 1995-96 Planning Inquiry, had solved many of the problems discovered by the Objectors at the Inquiry itself, and that the outcome of the Inquiry might have been different, had Nirex 97 been available in time. This assertion, which implies that the Longlands Farm locality is indeed suitable, is not true.


A joint BGS/Nirex statement, dated March 2006, and amounting to one page of text, asserted that “it can be concluded that rather more than the previously determined 30% proportion of the UK land mass would provide a potentially suitable geological setting for a repository” This statement became the sole geological justification for deep disposal quoted in the 2008 MRWS White Paper. The anticipated research report, due to be finalised by late 2006, was never published.


The Inquiry Inspector Chris McDonald gave his views about the new site search, in a letter to The Guardian, dated June 2007. He says, apropos of a possible return to Longlands Farm, "The site is not suitable and investigations should be moved elsewhere."


Report from NuclearSpin, 2009. Documents obtained under FOI showed that the supposedly neutral Nuclear Decommissioning Authority secretly discussed going overtly pro-nuclear.


Transcript of BBC Radio Cumbria interview, 23 May 2012, with Dr Richard Shaw (BGS) and Prof Stuart Haszeldine.


Response by DECC to Marianne Birkby of Radiation Free Lakeland, 30 April 2013. This letter misrepresents the 1996 Nirex Inquiry findings, and appears to smear the Inquiry Inspector by implying that he exceeded his powers.


I can add more papers and articles by request, if they are not in copyright.

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Document Library:


Papers and slideshows by David Smythe


The 1995-96 Sellafield Public Planning Inquiry


Key papers on repository siting


The BGS screening report of West Cumbria, 2010


Nuclear safety regulation



Document Library:


Papers and slideshows by David Smythe


The 1995-96 Sellafield Public Planning Inquiry


Key papers on repository siting


The BGS screening report of West Cumbria, 2010


Nuclear safety regulation