pounds 350m to be spent on Dounreay waste

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NUCLEAR waste which was dumped in a shaft over a 20-year period is to be dug out again at a cost of up to pounds 350m, the Government announced last night, writes Fran Abrams.

The 25-year project at Dounreay in the north of Scotland will mean 4,000 cubic metres of waste material must be stored above ground. Last year, the Conservative government cancelled plans for an underground nuclear store, and no alternative has yet been found.

The shaft was constructed in the 1950s as a route for removing rubble during building work at the Dounreay site. It was then licensed for waste disposal and used until 1977, when a build-up of chemicals caused a major explosion.

Particles of nuclear material similar to some of those put down the shaft turned up recently on the beach near Dounreay, leading to fears that they could have leaked out. Officials from the UK Atomic Energy Authority said they could not see how they could have come from the shaft although they could not suggest any alternative.

John Battle, the energy minister, said: "It is now clear that the shaft does not provide standards of waste disposal that are acceptable today and that retrieval is the best practicable environmental option."

Lorraine Mann, convenor of Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping, said: "It really bolsters our confidence ... that they are prepared to spend this amount of public funds on something which is so vital."