Veil to be lifted on new nuclear waste sites

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The Independent Online

The secret list of potential sites where Britain's 470,000 cubic metres of current and future nuclear waste could be stored will finally be published next month after almost 20 years.

The secret list of potential sites where Britain's 470,000 cubic metres of current and future nuclear waste could be stored will finally be published next month after almost 20 years.

Around 12 locations are expected to be published initially and could include the nuclear sites at Sellafield in Cumbria and near the Dounreay site in Scotland. A larger list of locations, numbering up to 500, could follow.

The publication will reignite the debate over nuclear power and could spark protests from green campaigners as well as residents worried that a storage dump could be built near them. There have been suggestions that affected residents should receive compensation.

It will also provoke debate within the Government about the future of Britain's nuclear waste. Senior ministers are already voicing concerns that deep burial - until now the most likely option - is too expensive and risky. They are pressing for the waste to be stored in an above-ground or sub-surface facility. They believe the most radio- active waste, such as spent fuel, should be retrievable in case it could be reused as fuel in the future.

Nirex, the independent body which regulates Britain's nuclear waste, decided last week to publish the shortlist of locations in the middle of June. It was originally drawn up by Nirex in 1989 at the beginning of a 10-year process to find places to bury nuclear waste. But the process collapsed in farce in 1997 when the then environment secretary, John Gummer, rejected Nirex's proposal to build an underground storage bunker at Sellafield because of doubts over whether the local geology was suitable. The project was shelved, and nuclear waste is currently stored in more than 30 temporary sites.

The list is being published after requests under the Freedom of Information Act. But the timing of its publication will give it greater significance because the Government has ordered another review into the nuclear waste problem. A new body called the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) will provide recommendations next summer on how best to dispose of it, but will not select a storage site.

But Gordon MacKerron, the chairman of CoRWM, dismissed the importance of the list. "This is a very old historical list. It has no relevance to what we are doing.

"In the interests of transparency, the report should be released as quickly and with as little fuss as possible."

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