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COUNCILS URGE GOVERNMENT TO CUT HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE LIQUID WASTE BACKLOG

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A new report published by Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLAs) recommends halting nuclear reprocessing at Sellafi...
A new report published by Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLAs) recommends halting nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield to cut a dangerous stockpile of highly radioactive liquid (HAL) waste. The report provides support to Denmark, Iceland, Ireland and Norway, who are calling for the suspension of all nuclear reprocessing to minimise further radioactive pollution of the sea, at the OSPAR Convention meeting in Copenhagen this week.

The NFLA report, prepared by the Massachusetts based Institute for Resource and Security Studies (IRSS) (2), predicts a 10% rise in volumes of volatile HAL through to 2005 on current waste generation and vitrification rates (3). UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, in its own report published last February (4) said it was 'unconvinced' that BNFL can clear the HAL backlog by an earlier jointly agreed deadline of 2015. The Inspectorate has given BNFL six months, to 18 August 2000, to come up with a plan to meet the deadline. If BNFL fail, the Inspectorate says 'we will use our powers to curtail or suspend THORP reprocessing'. IRSS estimate

immediate suspension of the THORP plant would enable the HAL backlog to be cleared by 2010.

Concern about safety of containment of HAL at Sellafield has prompted

repeated calls, notably from the Irish Government, for these wastes to be stabilised. Currently the 1300cm of HAL contains about 2,100kg of the radioactive isotope caesium 137. A mere 27kg released during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion accounted for most of the contamination across Europe and is responsible for the continuing restrictions, 14 years after, on the sale of sheep meat too radioactive to eat, from some UK upland farms.

IRSS identify 10 unresolved safety issues (5) and shows HAL storage to be in breach of two of the Nuclear Inspectorate's own 'safety assessment principles'. IRSS warn: 'More reprocessing will tend to lead to a higher level of hazard, with increases in both the probability and consequences of a potential HAL release.'

Notes

1. The 1992 OSPAR Convention requires the prevention and elimination of marine pollution in the North-East Atlantic region, including the Irish Sea. The OSPAR member states meet annually to adopt measures necessary to comply with the Convention. Member states, who include Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the

European Union, meet in Copenhagen between 26-30 June 2000.

2. High Level Radioactive Liquid Waste at Sellafield: An Updated Review Gordon Thompson, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, June 2000, 23pp, available free of charge from the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Secretariat.

3. Vitrification converts HAL to a more stable solid waste for storage. However, CORE Briefing, 8 March 2000, reports: '...The Vitrification Plant has significantly underperformed since its opening in 1991. The production rate of waste-filled canisters is below 50% of the production capacity and the plant has been subject to numerous technical problems, accidents and incidents involving worker contamination and evacuation since operations began...'

4. The Storage of Liquid High Level Waste at Sellafield Nuclear

Installations Inspectorate, February 2000, 90pp see:

http://www.open.gov.uk/hse/nsd

5. Unresolved HAL storage safety issues identified by IRSS include:

(a) safety assessments by BNFL have failed to address important accident

phenomena, and have made claims about accident probability that are not

based on engineering analyses;

(b) devices for transferring liquid HLW from a defective tank will work

only over a narrow range of temperature;

(c) nominally separate cooling circuits for the HLW tanks are not truly

independent;

(d) remote inspection techniques must be developed to determine the

internal structural integrity of the HAL tanks and evaporators;

(e) B215, the HAL storage building, is being modified to increase

resistance to earthquakes, but BNFL has not performed a seismic

probabilistic safety assessment that meets prevailing standards;

(f) ventilation, control and instrumentation systems in the B215 facility

do not meet prevailing standards;

(g) BNFL has failed to perform an integrated safety assessment for linked

facilities, and therefore does not properly understand the potential for

inadvertent forwarding of organic chemicals from B205 (Magnox reprocessing

plant) or THORP to B215;

(h) investigations of the potential for violent chemical explosions in B215

are incomplete;

(i) BNFL has not analysed the development of potential severe accidents in

B215 or the opportunities for mitigating such accidents; and

(j) it is unlikely that BNFL will succeed in emptying the HLW tanks by

2015, in part because of pipeline blockages in the vitrification plant

Notes

1. Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea IAEA-TECHDOC-115 August 1999

2. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity PJ Kershaw et. al. 44 (1999) pp191-221

3. The 1992 OSPAR Convention requires the prevention and elimination of marine pollution in the North-East Atlantic region, including the Irish Sea. The OSPAR member states meet annually to adopt measures necessary to comply with the Convention. Member states, who include Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the

European Union, next meet in Copenhagen between 26-30 June 2000.

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