Letter:Where not to put radioactive waste

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Sir: On Tuesday, 20 December, Cumbria County Council is considering the planning application by UK Nirex to build its proposed Rock Characterisation Facility (RCF) at Gosforth, near Sellafield in Cumbria ("Government faces inquiry into nuclear was te disposal'', 19 December).

The RCF is an underground "laboratory" that could become the first stage in the construction of a nuclear waste repository .

Many doubts have already been raised about the geological suitability of the site for radioactive waste disposal. The rock in which Nirex proposes to put the waste is highly fractured and the long-term water flows, which will carry radioactive contaminants from the repository towards the surface and into water supplies, are not properly understood. This groundwater movement could also be unpredictably affected by future changes in climate (including ice ages) and by earthquakes associated with faults inthe area.

Experiments in the RCF cannot reduce much of the uncertainty involved in making predictions over the next million years. Some of this uncertainty is inherent in the poor choice of sights. Construction of the RCF will also destroy the long-term groundwater flows that need to be understood.

In view of the doubts about the geological suitability of the site, the uncertainties in the science and the lack of openness of Nirex with its data, we believe there should be a full, wide-ranging public inquiry into Nirex's planning application.

Yours faithfully, P. J. RICHARDSON (Chartered Consultant Geologist)

J. E. TREAGUS (Senior Lecturer in Geology, University of Manchester)

R. J. SUTHREN (Senior Lecturer in Geology, Oxford Brookes University)

R. S. HASZELDINE (Senior Lecturer in Geology, University of Glasgow)

I. ALLISON (Lecturer in Geology, University of Glasgow)

C. McKEOWN (Postgraduate Researcher in Geology, University of Glasgow)

A. P. BOYLE (Lecturer in Geology, University of Liverpool)

E. REID (Senior Lecturer, Inverness College)

Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire 19 December