What the government does not say is that a geological suitability search came before any attempt to get communities involved, in all these countries. This is also true of Switzerland, which was not cited. The UK government is misleadingly implying that the so-called ‘success’ of these countries in progress towards finding a site was due to community support. This is not so.
The search for a suitable site in the USA has been reset to zero with the closure of the Yucca Mountain research site in Nevada. Japan is not mentioned; investigations there were stalled in 2006. This benighted country is now belatedly doing its best to get out of nuclear, before it even begins to think again about nuclear waste disposal.
The hard rock sites selected in Sweden and Finland are relatively well-advanced, but the geology is complex. Contrary to simplified views, the rocks are not granite, but comprise highly altered rocks, formed deep down within the Earth’s crust, called gneiss. They are of granitic composition (hence the confusion), but are not granite. Granite itself is a simple crystalline homogeneous rock.
The site investigations are encountering problems at both Scandinavian sites due to the complexity, but at least the terrain is very flat, near the coast, so that there is very little pressure, or ‘head’, to drive the underground water flow through the cracks and faults. Again, this is far from being the case in West Cumbria. Switzerland, France and Belgium are investigating sites in simple flat-lying clay formations with no faults, all in regions where the terrain is low-relief. The clay is more impermeable to water flow than crystalline rocks, and is also self-sealing if there is any disturbance.
But there remains the problem of what to do about escaping radioactive gas from a repository; no country has solved that one. Canada is pursuing a similar programme in Ontario. In the UK there are geologically similar areas in the east of England – but nowhere in West Cumbria.