Government advisers warn of 'nuclear dustbin' risk: Reprocessing plant to remain idle as ministers seek more time to decide its worth

A DECISION on whether British Nuclear Fuels' controversial new pounds 2.8bn thermal oxide reprocessing plant (Thorp) at Sellafield can start work is to be delayed - probably until November - for further public consultations to see whether it is really needed, the Government announced yesterday.

The plant in Cumbria could make Britain the world's nuclear dustbin, according to an assessment by the Government's own advisers, released yesterday. Hundreds of tons of plutonium- contaminated waste from abroad may have to be buried here rather than be shipped back - even though British Nuclear Fuels has not shown that the waste can be safely disposed of - a report by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee warns.

The Government appears split over the fate of Thorp. In a written parliamentary reply, John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday announced that he and Gillian Shephard, the Minister of Agriculture, had to consider wider issues, such as Thorp's economics and the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation, before deciding if it should go ahead. However, Tim Eggar, Minister for Energy, told the Commons yesterday that the plant was economic and that there were no worries over nuclear proliferation.

The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee warns that the plans are 'at variance with government policy on other wastes'. It virtually accuses BNFL of selective presentation of the safety evidence - of putting forward only the most favourable analysis.

The committee's report, which went to ministers last October, has infuriated BNFL and the Department of Trade and Industry, which tried to suppress its publication. However, copies were yesterday placed in the House of Commons library.

The company does not intend to return all the radioactive waste generated by Thorp. Instead of giving back to its customers the large volumes of plutonium-contaminated waste, it would like to 'substitute' a far smaller volume of highly radioactive material, calculated to be equivalent in terms of radioactivity. BNFL would then bury the foreign plutonium-contaminated waste in a repository deep underground near Sellafield.

But the report reveals that BNFL has not agreed with its customers how the substitution should be calculated. The first consignment of highly radioactive waste is due to be returned to Japan by 1996. 'The success of substitution is dependent on customers accepting high-level waste,' the committee warns.

The report will be one of the items considered during the new consultation period announced yesterday. Within a month, the Government will publish a formal justification for operating the plant. There will then be a 10-week consultation period after which Mr Gummer and Mrs Shephard will consider the public response. Officials do not expect a decision until November.

Thorp was completed in March 1992 and BNFL hoped to start commissioning it last October by putting in low-radioactivity uranium. The company estimates that the delay is costing it pounds 2m a week, and it warned this month that it would have to lay off 1,700 staff at Sellafield if there were further delays.

Environmental lobby groups welcomed the delay but questioned whether the consultations would be genuine, considering that six Cabinet ministers, including John Major, endorsed the plant in an amendment to a Commons motion yesterday. The groups asked how Mr Gummer could counter such strong support from fellow ministers.

Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, said: 'Mr Gummer is fudging the issue. He should come clean and tell us if he will hold a full and independent public inquiry, which we believe he is legally bound to do.' Dr Pat Green, radiation spokesman for Friends of the Earth, called on the Government to publish a confidential report on Thorp's economics.

Leading article, page 17

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Business Development Director - Interior Design

£80000 - £100000 per annum + competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits