Nuclear dumps are fast tracked

The government plans to accelerate the burial of radioactive nuclear waste, despite risk warnings

Matt Chorley
Monday 30 July 2012 01:06
Waste land:  A train used for carrying flasks of spent uranium fuel rods sits at Sellafield plant
Waste land: A train used for carrying flasks of spent uranium fuel rods sits at Sellafield plant

The burial of radioactive nuclear waste is to be fast tracked by the government despite warnings about the risks.

Ministers have revealed an "enduring ambition" for Britain's first burial of waste from nuclear power stations to happen as early as 2029, instead of 2040 as originally planned, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Opponents warn acceleration of the idea will mean cutting corners, and over-riding the views of people living near burial sites.

The idea of entombing waste from reactors deep underground was first raised by the Labour government six years ago, with the emphasis on "voluntarism". Councils were encouraged to come forward and offer to host the radioactive matter.

But the coalition wants the process to move faster, and has asked the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to carry out research into "the potential options for acceleration".

The waste would be buried in containers at depths of up to 1,000m with both metal and the natural rock preventing radiation being released.

Under the original plans the first intermediate level waste would be buried in 2040, with high level waste and spent fuels going underground in 2075, followed by spent fuel from new build nuclear reactors in 2130. The project would close from 2175.

Last year NDA said it had "confidence" the 2075 and 2130 dates could be brought forward, but shifting the 2040 date to 2029 was "more challenging" and required consideration of other approaches which bring "a higher degree of programme risk".

However, a new report on Implementing Geological Disposal, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveals the government is determined to press ahead with acceleration, despite "the inherent risks". "Acceleration remains an enduring ambition for ministers but no decisions will be taken until NDA's further work is complete," it said.

Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: "Acceleration of plans for burying nuclear waste could only be achieved by by-passing proper consideration of hazards or railroading local communities."

Three local authorities in Cumbria have already expressed interest in hosting a nuclear burial site: Cumbria County Council, and Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils.

Charles Hendry, Tory energy minister, hailed the idea as potentially a "multi-billion pound development". It would benefit the communities where nuclear waste is currently temporarily stored and the burial areas as investment would be made earlier.

Tom Greatrex, Labour's shadow energy minister, said: "It is imperative geological disposal is undertaken with care." The Department of Energy and Climate Change insisted acceleration "cannot be at the expense of proper site assessment".

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