Radioactive discharges from the Sellafield nuclear plant are to be cut by up to 35 per cent under a new safety crackdown by the Environment Agency.
After nearly a decade of promises by the Government, the safety watchdog has finally announced its plans to tighten regulations on air and sea pollution from the British Nuclear Fuels site in Cumbria.
Under the proposals, due to be sent to ministers for approval, BNFL will face much lower limits on discharges of waste into the Irish Sea.
Hailed by the agency as a "major milestone" in the clean-up of Sellafield, the move will mean that three-quarters of the aerial limits and half of the liquid- discharge limits at the plant will be reduced.
The changes will see potential radiation doses to members of the public in Cumbria cut by between 25 and 35 per cent, the agency claims.
A single safety certificate for all air, sea and land waste disposals by Sellafield will be introduced, along with stricter site monitoring and analysis.
BNFL said last night that it accepted it was now virtually inevitable that the new restrictions would be introduced, but warned that it could cost the company an extra £40m to enforce. It claimed that the additional monitoring would impose a significant "burden" on operations and suggested that its frontline staff could face greater radiation exposure to comply with the checks.
The Irish government, Scandinavian countries and green groups have long called for action to be taken against the company.
Among the changes proposed, tritium limits will be cut by 20 per cent, cobalt-60 by 72 per cent and caesium-134 by 76 per cent. New controls will also be imposed on discharges from individual plants as well as from the site as a whole.
A spokesman for BNFL said: "The overall benefits of what the agency is proposing are difficult to quantify and it is our view that the overall environmental benefit will be minimal."
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