Nuclear Information Centre

Nuclear Football

Take ownership of your very own metaphorical allocation of high-activity radioactive waste!

A limited number of Nuclear Footballs are for sale @ £50.00 each or could also be made available on temporary loan in return for documenting their usage and travels over time. Please contact the Nuclear Information Centre for further information or to discuss potential ideas.

Six Nuclear Footballs departed on a mini tour of the UK in Sept/Oct 2023 as part of the EDF Energy Games, a series of simultaneously competitive and friendly sports/social events operating as a precursor to the Paris 2024 Olympics where EDF are one of the official sponsors. However, four went missing in action in the Crawley area during the South-East event, having been kicked over a fence into neighbouring school-grounds from where they subsequently disappeared. Nuclear football is not without risk!

Nic Pehkonen, Nuclear Football, 2022 onwards [Custom printed training football(s)].

Occupying a suitably grey area between art, non-art, site and non-site, Nuclear Football is an adaptable, fluid and intentionally open-ended work about the geological disposal of high-activity radioactive waste.

The UK is currently five years into the latest attempt to “solve” the ongoing conundrum of safely managing its past, present, and future inventory of radioactive waste which, along with the legacy of contamination resulting from overseas nuclear weapons testing, is the most enduring and hazardous by-product of British civil and military nuclear programmes since the late 1940s.

Since 2018, a consent-based, government funded project led by Nuclear Waste Services (NWS) has been tasked with finding a suitable site and willing community in England or Wales to host a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for the permanent containment of the UK’s high activity radioactive waste, deep underground.

Following the withdrawal of Allerdale (West Cumbria) in September 2023 there are currently three active GDF Community Partnerships (two more in West Cumbria and one in Lincolnshire). These will exist until such time as they either withdraw (or are withrawn by NWS as was the case with Allerdale) from the process or a suitable site is eventually found, and a test of local public support has been passed. Until this happens, which could be decades away, the ultimate location of the waste will remain unknown although much of it currently resides at Sellafield (also in West Cumbria) and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So where does the Nuclear Football fit in?

As part of their ongoing public information programme, the Theddlethorpe GDF Community Partnership published a handy, pocket-sized, foldout infographic leaflet in 2022 which contained the following statement:

In all, about 750,000m3 of radioactive waste is destined for disposal in a GDF: the equivalent of a football-sized amount for each person in the UK.*

Within a gallery setting, Nuclear Football is placed directly on the floor so is free to travel around for the duration of the exhibition, either through intentional or accidental contact. So, although non-radioactive, it nonetheless represents a potential safety hazard to both the audience and other exhibits. Nuclear Football also reflects on the uncertainty bound up within the GDF siting process and the still unknown final resting place of the UK’s most hazardous radioactive waste.

The GDF siting process can be initiated by a single individual with no requirement at the outset to identify a specific site, although in due course a Community Partnership must agree the geographical parameters of a search area. However, at the end of the day, even if more Community Partnerships form over time, the government’s preferred outcome is for there to be just one site or “winner”. Stretching the footballing analogy further, we could think of the GDF siting process as a “friendly” match between the public and UK government, but one that will almost certainly go deep into extra time.

The popularity of football in the UK almost goes without saying, but it remains to be seen how much enthusiasm there will be for a GDF within each participating local community as the siting process plays out.


*For information: in a July 2023 published video, Nuclear Waste Services recalibrated their original analogy, now suggesting that 750,000 m3 is equivalent to around 2 footballs worth of high activity radioactive waste per person. However, for simplicity, Nuclear Football will continue to operate on the basis of the original 1 football personal allocation.

Information last updated: Tue 26 Dec 2023