Anti-nuclear activists are to blockade the troubled Dounreay nuclear research establishment in Caithness in an effort to prevent the reprocessing of up to 20,000 radioactive spent fuel rods.
Managers at Dounreay have unveiled plans to reprocess more than 1,500 fuel rods each year for the next 10 years. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which runs the plant, has already agreed to recycle 80 tons of spent sodium from reactors on the Continent and is set to win a multi- million pound contract to reprocess hundreds of radioactive fuel rods from Australia. The plant is also bidding for United States contracts worth more than pounds 100m. A consignment of 52 US-made rods from a German nuclear reactor arrived at Dounreay last month.
Bosses at the plant argue that reprocessing will generate pounds 10m a year for the Caithness economy and create much-needed employment. A Dounreay spokesman said the spent fuel elements posed no threat to the public during transport or storage. Reprocessing would generate "only a tiny amount" of additional radiation and all waste products would be returned to the country of origin.
But UKAEA's bid for the work comes at a sensitive time. Dounreay is still reeling from a series of revelations, highlighted in the Independent, that poor safety procedures have led to harmful radioactive leaks. "Hot" metal fragments have been discovered at the plant and on nearby beaches in recent months.
At the same time, two reports from government pollution watchdogs have accused managers of covering up a radioactive explosion at the site in 1977.
Critics of Dounreay say its poor safety record means it cannot be trusted to reprocess the spent fuel rods. Activists are planning to blockade the plant as part of a campaign to force managers to abandon the work.
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