Britain resists sea ban on radioactive waste

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BRITAIN is resisting a permanent ban on dumping radioactive waste at sea as delegates gather for an international meeting on marine pollution to open in London today.

Britain is alone in opposing the ban, favoured by most of the 70 countries at the meeting. In recent weeks the United States and Japan have said they will support a ban.

Late last month Russia said it would drop plans to release more nuclear waste into the seas around Japan. It has also indicated that it would be prepared to support an outright ban, although Russia's military argues that it has such a pressing disposal problem that dumping must continue for some years. France, although known to dispute the need for a ban, is refusing to take a public stance.

The Government's view is that dumping at sea may prove the best environmental option for disposing of 'large bulky items', of low radioactivity, such as decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines. Disposal on land could pose a greater risk of exposure than dumping at sea, officials argue.

The meeting of the London Convention, the international body that regulates waste dumping at sea, must agree how to treat radioactive waste since its 10-year moratorium on dumping radioactive material expires this year.

Scientific studies to be presented at the meeting failed to produce clear recommendations. The intergovernmental panel of experts noted, however, 'the growing awareness within the national and international communities that new and more effective measures are needed to protect the global marine environment'.

Yesterday a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food said the UK would 'listen to the position of the other countries' and examine the scientific studies before making up its mind about an indefinite ban. The UK no longer dumps radioactive waste at sea, although it did so up to the 1983 agreement.