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FactCheck: Is the UK government considering an area near Newry for a nuclear waste disposal site?

The British government is seeking an area to build a geological disposal facility. But is it planned for Co Down?

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REPORTS THAT THE British government was plotting to build a facility to house nuclear waste near Newry, Co Down have led to derision and condemnation in the past few weeks.

Local campaign groups and politicians utterly rejected the idea of accepting nuclear waste, with local Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan saying Ireland wouldn’t be Britain’s “dumping ground”.

One local community group wrote on Facebook: “It has now been confirmed by the UK Government that the Newry & Mourne area is under consideration for a GDF Nuclear Waste Disposal Site. 

This waste is processed in England – why should the people of Ireland shoulder the risk of storing this material for thousands of years? Why should our local landscapes, vital in attracting tourism to our area, be scarred by roads built to facilitate this environmental disaster?

But what exactly is the UK government proposing here?

Claim: The British government is considering an area near Newry for a nuclear waste disposal site.



A geological disposal facility (GDF) is described by the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as a “highly engineered structure consisting of multiple barriers that will provide protection over hundreds of thousands of years”. 

This disposal, it said, “involves isolating radioactive waste deep inside a suitable rock volume to ensure that no harmful quantities of radioactivity ever reach the surface environment”. 

shutterstock_1234515958 File photo. Underground repository for nuclear waste Source: Shutterstock/josefkubes

It’s envisioned as a way of packaging away radioactive waste in specially constructed excavations within natural geological features such as granite and claystone.

Such sites already exist in Japan, Finland, the US, and Switzerland, but none in the UK.

In a UK government document on how to work with local communities to build a GDF, Minister Richard Harrington said previous attempts to find sites had not been successful.

“This is for a variety of reasons, but above all previous approaches were not able to secure and sustain the necessary level of local support,” he said.

Northern Ireland

In a post published on 19 December 2018, the British government said its work had shown that there may be a “suitable geological setting” for a geological disposal facility in Northern Ireland.

“There are granites and similar strong rocks around Newry, in which we may be able to site a GDF,” it said. “We would need to do more work to find out whether these rocks have suitable properties and thicknesses in the depth range of interest for a GDF.”

Source: rwm_gdf_uk/YouTube

A video on the government’s site explaining the proposal was described as “chilling” by SDLP MLA Colin McGrath.

He said: “Our areas of outstanding natural beauty and of significant environmental importance cannot become dumping grounds for British nuclear waste.”

Further notices on the department’s website note that they “may find a suitable geological setting for a GDF” in other parts of Northern Ireland.

‘Nonsense’ contacted a spokesperson for the UK government agency in charge of this, Radioactive Waste Management.

He said in no uncertain terms that there are no plans from the UK government to build a GDF to store nuclear waste in Northern Ireland at this time.

He explained: “We’ve done reports on the geology in different regions of the UK. There are 45 in all. There are three different rock types we know we can build a GDF in. 

That’s what this report on Northern Ireland is about. If you take it in isolation, it’s being read as ‘UK planning to dump waste in NI’ but that’s not the case at all. The report was looking at it if that type of rock exists in that region. It doesn’t mean it’s coming here.

The spokesperson went on to say that to describe that document as showing that a nuclear waste dump is coming to Newry was “absolute rubbish, and complete and utter nonsense”.

For it to be possible, he said, a devolved government in Northern Ireland would have to assent to it being built in the first place. It wouldn’t be up to the government in Westminster.

“And we cannot progress discussions when there is no government in Northern Ireland,” he said. 

Even if a government was to clear the path for a GDF to be built in a certain area, there are more hurdles that must be overcome.

This includes confirming that the right type of rock exists to facilitate the construction of a GDF and getting the local community to support the proposals. In return for the GDF, a local region would benefit from investment and jobs, the spokesperson said.

“To go through the process of dealing with communities, check the rocks out, you’re talking about the process taking 10-15 years,” he said.

As we stand now, the place that is least likely for it to be built – we cannot progress any conversations on it at this time, so we won’t be pursuing a process in Northern Ireland.

Whenever a site is chosen, it’ll likely not be until the 2040s before it is fully up and running, the spokesperson added.


As per the spokesperson for the government agency in charge of radioactive waste management, the UK government commissioned a number of surveys to be carried out to check lands in the UK to see if there was the potential to build a geological disposal facility to house this waste.

As part of the UK, Northern Ireland was surveyed and some of the land identified was deemed as having the potential but further tests would be needed. 

However, for a GDF to be built, it would need the devolved government in Northern Ireland to make the call on whether to progress with building it.

If it gave the go-ahead, then it would still need confirmation that the terrain was suitable as well as local support for the plan. 

The claim was: The British government is considering an area near Newry for a nuclear waste disposal site.

We rate this claim as: MIXTURE

As per our verdict guide this means there are elements of truth in the claim, but also elements of falsehood. Or, the best available evidence is evenly weighted in support of, and against, the claim.

Preliminary work has been carried out to see if the site in Northern Ireland could work, but we are far, far away from a GDF in the North being a reality given how much would have to happen before it could be built.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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Sean Murray

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