The entire UK inventory of high-level waste from fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in seven boreholes averaging 4.85km depth spread over an area less than three football pitches.

This is the claim of Sheffield University’s Prof Fergus Gibb who has co-authored a study that sets out a design for a new way of permanently disposing of high-level radioactive waste deep underground in boreholes.

“These could be used alongside or separate from a much smaller-cheaper mined repository which is needed for the huge volume of intermediate-level wastes,” he said.

The UK has accumulated around 248,000m3 of radioactive waste with over 95 per cent of its radioactivity arising from 1,390m3 (0.56 per cent), which is categorised as high-level waste.

The government’s current plan is to bury the waste at a depth of a few hundred metres in a geological disposal facility (GDF) if, and when, a geologically, politically and socially suitable site is found.

It is estimated that a GDF will cost over £13bn, could not be available before 2040 at the earliest and would not be able to take any high-level waste before 2080. It would then remain operational and open for over 150 years.

Disposing of high-level waste in deep boreholes was previously thought not to be possible, as the UK’s waste is packaged in containers that were considered too large.

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