Secret radioactive waste dump sites disclosed

A secret list of sites earmarked for the dumping of radioactive waste in the 1980s is disclosed today.

Nirex, set up to manage the UK's intermediate level radioactive wastes, said the proposed programme of waste burial was abandoned in 1997.

It also confirmed that no alternative sites are currently being sought in the UK.

Sites previously considered as dumping areas were: Bradwell, in Essex; Potton Island, in Essex; Dounreay, in Caithness; Altnabreac in Caithness; Fuday in Western Isles; Sandray in Western Isles; Killingholme in South Humberside; Stanford, in Norfolk; and two sites at Sellafield, in Cumbria.

Two offshore sites, one close to Redcar Port and another close to Hunterston Port, were also considered.

Details of the sites have finally been disclosed today under Freedom of Information Act provisions.

Nirex said that if any new selection of dumping sites is made in the future, the previous lists will not form the starting point of such a process.

Chris Murray, managing director of Nirex, said: "Radioactive waste exists and needs to be dealt with whether or not there is any programme of new build in the UK.

"Dealing with the waste is as much an ethical and social issue as a scientific and technical one. This is the key lesson we have learned from the past.

"Openness and transparency must underpin everything that is done in this area."

He said he hoped that by publishing the list, Nirex could help focus attention on the new debate on disposal of intermediate-level waste.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is due to report next July with recommendations for waste management.

"Many things have changed since this old list was drawn up, but what has not changed is that the waste still exists and needs to be dealt with in a safe, environmentally sound and publicly acceptable way for the long term," said Mr Murray.

"Responsibility lies with this generation to ensure this is done."

The CoRWM is charged with determining the best option or combination of options for managing the Uk's long-term radioactive waste.

If it recommends using deep geological repository to deal with intermediate and low-level wastes, a new site selection would not begin until 2007 or 2008.

Radioactive waste has been created in significant quantities in the UK since the 1940s and the nation has significant amounts which will remain potentially hazardous for thousands of years.

Previous attempts to provide a long term waste management facility for these wastes have ended in failure.

Most recently that occurred in 1997, when the government blocked the development of an underground rock characterisation facility at Sellafield.

The waste is currently being stored at 34 locations around the UK awaiting a long-term waste management facility.

Nirex said the sites considered in the selection process, other than Dounreay and Sellafield, had not been published prior to the introduction of information freedom laws as a result of earlier Government policy to keep the details confidential.