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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement