Where to dispose of Britain's nuclear waste

Geographical Issues

So, where does geography play a part in this difficult issue?

Essentially the nuclear waste disposal or storage question centres not just around engineering options, but around the problems of where should the waste go. A useful and well-established method for undertaking site searches of all kinds is the use of GIS.

In the past these GIS have required expensive pieces of computer hardware and software plus a high degree of technical skill and knowledge. Over recent years researchers have been developing web-based GIS which allow the public to participate more easily in these complex decision making processes without the need for intensive training or direct access to expensive systems and data.

One of the key areas of GIS functionality is in site search and evaluation.

It is useful, therefore, to illustrate the advantages presented by GIS in relation to the current radioactive waste management problem. GIS can be used to assist in all three stages of the site search guidelines forwarded by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), if not in part then in their entirety.

Stage one is based on a nation-wide survey aimed at identifying suitable areas for further investigation according to four factors: geology, population, accessibility and conservation. Site searches of this kind are the 'bread-and-butter' of GIS and so can be completed entirely within this environment.

Stage two is based on the preliminary identification of a limited number of sites for further investigation. Here GIS could be used to provide site profiles according to key geographical factors to assist in the identification process.

Stage three of the IAEA guidelines involves final confirmation of a suitable site. Here GIS could be used to provide detailed site specific information relevant to this decision by performing exact and computer intensive calculations such as visibility analyses and assisting in environmental assessments through providing key data, analyses and model predictions.

Although at first glance, GIS-based site searches appear to be little more than computer replacements of more traditional paper-based map searches and engineering calculations, they do offer a number of significant advantages. These include:

  • massive increases in speed and efficiency;
  • the ability to simultaneously explore and search the whole of the country for suitable sites;
  • the unbiased treatment of all sites using the same procedures;
  • the ability to handle a wide range of data including geological, socio-economic, environmental and policy sources;
  • a highly visual set of siting procedures and results;
  • a high degree of flexibility allowing the effects of changes of criteria to be quickly investigated;
  • the provision of a strong basis for justifying siting decisions on scientific grounds; and
  • demonstrable rule-based site search procedures.

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