The cost of HS2 is now higher than the nuclear graveyard undersea

The long-delayed plan to store radioactive waste produced over decades

The UK’s largest, most expensive and longest-lasting infrastructure project is expected to be a vast nuclear graveyard subsea that will hold Britain’s growing piles of radioactive material.

The project has been so delayed that Britain must now excavate tunnels across 36 square kilometers of rock in order to create massive underground caverns to hold the radioactive waste that has accumulated over seven decades civil nuclear power.

According to the latest estimates of scientists at Nuclear Waste Services, the government-owned firm designing the project, the project will take over 150 years to finish and cost £66bn (£66bn) in today’s currency.

This price places it near the top or even at the top of the list for major UK infrastructure projects. This compares to Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Station, and approximately PS60bn in the London-Birmingham Rail Line. These are the UK’s biggest construction projects.

Neil Hyatt is the chief scientific advisor for NWS. He said, “We have had 70 years in nuclear activities, mostly civil, but also industrial and defence nuclear. This has generated a large amount of waste, estimated to be 750,000 cubic meters by the time the storage facility is built. It’s going be big.”

The Royal Albert Hall has a volume of 100,000 cubic metres. This means that the waste will require space equivalent to eight Albert Halls.

The UK will have to dig out double the amount of rock to make the caverns and tunnels.

The waste includes about 120 tonnes plutonium, 110,000 tonnes uranium and 6,000 tonnes spent nuclear fuels – most of which are stored at Sellafield in Cumbria.

The final total will be higher because these estimates do not include the majority of waste generated by the new generation of nuclear power plants that the government is planning.

After five decades of ministerial stalling, has at least been reduced to two.

The other is off the coast near Mablethorpe, a popular seaside resort in Lincolnshire. One is located off the coast Cumbria, around Copeland.

The idea behind both sites is to dig horizontal tunnels a few miles under the ocean and then sink a huge shaft up to 3,500 ft deep on land.

Scientists hope that the scientists can create a final resting place for Britain’s nuclear legacy by excavating huge vaults in the impermeable mudstones and clays. After being filled with nuclear waste, they will be sealed with cement.

In part, the UK has to take such drastic measures because of radioactivity . It is not only lethal, but also lasts for a very long time. Plutonium, for example, requires 24,000 years to reduce its radioactivity by half. Uranium-238, on the other hand, takes 4.5 billions of years.

The UK’s nuclear waste, no matter what is done, will be deadly long after our civilisation is gone.

Hyatt says we should protect it for 300,000 more years than humans have existed.

He said: “We are talking about an infrastructure that will go with us into the future for as long as homo Sapiens have existed. Because our species itself is about 300,000-years old.”

Hyatt says that the sheer size of the operation, which involved locking up a large volume of waste for eternity and securing it for all time, was not going to be inexpensive. The GDF was claimed to be buildable for £12bn by successive ministers throughout the century.

In 2017, NWS was allowed to release their revised estimates, with a new maximum limit of £53bn.

The inflation rate since 2017 is 26pc. This suggests a cost of £66bn today. This includes construction and 150 years of operating costs.

British infrastructure projects can be unpredictable. The cost of the HS2 rail link to Manchester rose from £37.5bn to more than PS100bn , before being cut last year.

Hinkley Point C, a nuclear power plant also in construction, cost £9bn (2007) and the latest PS46bn is not likely to be the final price increase.

Steve Thomas, professor emeritus of energy policy and nuclear economics at Greenwich University and an expert on nuclear policy and economics, says that while we’ve built many rail lines and electricity stations, we’ve never constructed a huge nuclear waste disposal site thousands of feet beneath the sea.

The GDF’s volume would be the same as Wembley Stadium, but we need to dig down to 1,000 meters below ground to complete it. That is a lot to move. “These estimates are nothing more than wild guesses,” he said.

However, the problem of managing nuclear waste has been well-known for many decades.

In 1976, a report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (now known as the Flowers Report) concluded that Britain was building nuclear reactors at such a rapid rate that it needed to stop until it found a solution.

The statement said that “no commitment should be made to a large-scale nuclear fission programme until there is a way to contain long-lived, highly radioactive waste indefinitely.”

The politicians ignored this recommendation and commissioned the Sizewell B Power Station in Suffolk shortly after. However, in 1982, they set up Nirex to search for a geological deposit.

Nuclear Waste Services, a subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, took over the task after the agency was merged in 2007. The GDF is still at least fifteen years away.

Claire Corkhill is a professor at Bristol University who specializes in radioactive waste disposal. She also serves on the Government’s advisory committee on Radioactive Waste Management. Claire Corkhill said that the nuclear industry cannot be called “sustainable” without a geological storage facility for its waste.

She stated: “For an energy source to be called’sustainable,’ it must not cause significant damage to the environment. It is our duty to the future generations to find a solution to the radioactive waste produced by new nuclear power plants before we begin producing them.

She added that the GDF was also a good investment for the taxpayers, as the waste would otherwise have to be kept above ground for thousands and hundreds of years – at incalculable risks and costs.

The UK must find a place to dispose of radioactive waste. The completion of decommissioning at many sites in the UK like Sellafield will be delayed without a GDF at significant costs to taxpayers.

Nuclear industry also shares this ambition. They argue that nuclear energy generates very little waste in comparison to the electricity produced.

Tom Greatrex said, “Nuclear generates a small amount of waste compared to the energy it produces.” After 65 years of nuclear energy generation, there are enough high-level toxic wastes for every household in the UK.

The best solution for long-term safe and secure disposal is to use geological disposal. GDFs have been a success in countries like Sweden and Finland.

The perspective of the communities that are asked to host a GDF is quite different. Protest groups have sprung up in the villages as the threat has radicalised them.

Guardians of the East Coast has organized demonstrations at its beaches. South Copeland Against GDF in Cumbria is organising more protests and petitions.

Nuclear Free Local Authorities wrote to Andrew Bowie, the nuclear minister, warning that both sites are “totally unsuitable locations for a Geological Disposal Facility”.

Richard Outram, group secretary, said that both areas rely on tourism and would be lost if they became nuclear waste sites. Theddlethorpe saw 4.5m tourists in 2022.

“Mablethorpe, an English seaside village, is a traditional English town. It has a beautiful beach with sand dunes, and is surrounded by historic villages.

A nuclear waste dump could disrupt local residents, harm the environment and destroy tourism. Who would want to vacation on a “nuclear-waste coast”?”