A new search to find a site to develop a geological disposal facility to store the UK’s high radioactive waste is expected to begin next year.

Ann McCall, siting and engagement director for Radioactive Waste Management, told the Nuclear Industry Association annual conference in London that find a long-term and safe solution to storing waste, the vast majority of which is currently stored at the Sellafield site in West Cumbria, remained “mission critical” for the Government.

She told delegates at the event in London that RWM hoped to launch the citing process, supported by a new “campaign” website focusing on the importance of geological disposal, after securing government sign-off to proceed.

She confirmed consultations on a framework for future planning decisions and a new approach to working with local communities in the siting process will begin in the next few weeks.

A national geological screening has been completed and outputs are being finalised.

Ms McCall said the process would remain based on the willingness of communities to participate and it was expected that the siting process would begin next year.

Copeland has previously put itself forward as a host community for GDF, but the process came to an abrupt halt in January 2013 when Cumbria County Council voted not to proceed.

Ms McCall told delegates: “It is mission critical we have a disposal facility. It is mission critical for new build and the plans the UK has to safely store its existing waste, which has come from previous weapons programmes, the commercial nuclear activity, research and reprocessing.

“Finding a site is something we have been looking at for some time. We recognised in the 1970s that something had to be done. We had the chance to position the UK as a pioneer in this field.

“It has been recognised that we are not leading the way – the fact we haven’t found a site, and a solution for the waste.”

She added that work had been carried out to learn lessons from the previous GDF consultation.

This included being “open and transparent” on all information, and being clear on how people can participate.

She added that the process would provide “upfront” information on geology, socio economic impacts and community investment.

Earlier in the day Richard Harrington, energy minister for business and industrial strategy, revealed that, based on current estimated, GDF will support up to 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction, with an additional 1,000 jobs in the supply chain.

Once completed the facility would support 600 jobs a year for “more than a century”.

He said: “Strong, effective and lasting relationships, built on mutual trust and a shared vision of the long-term economic benefits for the host community, are key to successful delivery of a GDF.

“These consultations will help reassure industry that investment in the supply chain, both in people and capability, will pay dividends once we move into the delivery phase of this project.”

According to RWM – which is part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – GDF will help keep nuclear clean-up costs down. GDF, which is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, has a lifetime cost of £12bn to £20bn over 150 years.

More than 70,000 packages of waste are in above ground stores waiting for GDF.