Plan to bury foreign nuclear waste in Britain

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The Independent Online
The Government is planning to store indefinitely thousands of tons of foreign radioactive waste in Britain, provoking another environmental row only days after being embarrassed over Brent Spar.

British Nuclear Fuels has been lobbying hard for the White Paper on radioactive waste, due to be published in the next 10 days, to include proposals to keep the highly dangerous waste, mainly from Japan, in Britain.

If BNFL gets the go-ahead, ministers will be accused of breaking promises that Britain would not become "the nuclear dustbin of the world". Since the mid-Seventies, ministers have stated that waste from the company's reprocessing operations at Sellafield will be returned to its foreign customers.

"If the Department of Trade and Industry thought Brent Spar was a major political issue, just wait until they try to dump tons of Japanese waste here," warned Sarah Burton, Greenpeace's campaigns and legal director. "We will make Brent Spar look like a tea party."

Under the plans detailed by BNFL in the latest issue of the industry paper, Nuclear Fuel, the company would be allowed to "substitute" high- level for intermediate and low-level waste.

Instead of taking back all the waste from reprocessing their spent fuel, BNFL's customers would be sent high-level waste plus an extra 15 per cent of high-grade waste generated by Britain's nuclear power industry. The total measure of radioactivity being returned would be the same as if intermediate and low levels were sent back, allowing BNFL to claim Britain was not being used as a nuclear dump. As the "hot" high-grade material is in much smaller physical quantities than lesser grades, the number of shipments would be greatly reduced.

BNFL could cut its transport costs and, so the company claims, be in a better position to compete on prices with Cogema, its French rival, for future lucrative reprocessing work.

Britain, however, would be left with large quantities of intermediate- and low-level foreign waste. Some would be stored indefinitely in facilities above ground,while the rest would go into the controversial Nirex deep repository, planned for Cumbria.

Greenpeace has an unlikely ally in John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment . He is mindful of earlier promises that the waste would be returned and does not want to have to sell the policy change to an outraged public.