Sellafield could host all UK's radioactive waste
Sellafield already stores 70 per cent of the UK’s most potentially dangerous waste but The Whitehaven News can reveal that talks are under way which could lead to much more – if not all – of the country’s high-level radioactive material being moved to the site.
It would save Sellafield’s owners, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, about £600 million.
Although the option is part of a detailed NDA draft business plan, community leaders are already insisting the government must “pay up” before any high level waste is moved to West Cumbria.
Copeland Labour MP Jamie Reed has tabled Commons questions and is seeking urgent talks with energy secretary Chris Huhne and the NDA’s chairman and chief executive.
He fears there could be a ‘Trojan Horse’ move to stall plans for an underground repository by storing the material above ground for years to come. “The stakes could not be higher,” he said.
Coun David Moore, chairman of the West Cumbria Stakeholders Group, said: “There is a price to pay. Sellafield should not take any more waste without proper community consultation and benefits which our community would expect anyway. If Copeland gets £1.5million a year for storing low-level waste, how much is looking after the high-level stuff worth?”
Cumbrians Opposed to a Radiative Environment campaigner Martin Forwood said: “I don’t know what planet the NDA is living on – it’s astonishing and extraordinary it is even considering this. Not only would Sellafield be Britain’s atomic dustbin but it suggests that any old stuff can go to Sellafield. High-level waste is so contentious, not only the storage but transporting of it. CORE will oppose this and I am sure many other people will.”
Tim Knowles, who has county council responsibility for transport and environment, said: “Anything done of this sort would need community support. Clearly there may be benefits associated with it. We are at the start of a process, we don’t know yet the volumes of waste and site locations that might be involved.”
The NDA stresses there is no specific proposal yet and no decisions would be taken without community engagement.
Mr Reed said: “I have supported the NDA entirely since its creation but this has the potential to become a ‘Ratner moment’ for the Authority.
“Our community will not be taken for granted. Transporting all the UK’s high-level waste to stores at Sellafield would essentially mean the creation of an above-ground national high-level radioactive waste repository. And having created a facility with an indefinite lifespan, then all serious work on the progress of an underground facility would in all likelihood be shelved. This way, government would have removed the multi-billion-pound investment required for a repository off its balance sheet, kicked the issue into the long grass for some future government to deal with while our community continues to shoulder the unique national responsibility of high-level waste storage but without recognition or reward.
“Public trust is hard won and easily lost. I urge the NDA to learn the bitter lessons of the Nirex experience or else they are bound to repeat its disastrous failure.
“The Authority must listen to local concerns, demonstrate understanding and then act upon them.
“I don’t believe our community is in the business of selling itself short for a short-term political fix.”
Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn said: “If the NDA want this community to consider interim storage then they would be wise to follow the openness and honesty of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process of community engagement which has looked at community benefits and has given the community the ultimate right to withdraw should it feel that on balance that is the right thing to do.”
On behalf of the stakeholders group, Coun David Moore was meeting energy minister Charles Hendry in Whitehall yesterday. He said he would raise the waste issue along with other nuclear matters affecting Copeland.
In a statement, the NDA said: “Our draft strategy, recently out for public consultation, considered how best to manage spent fuel and other nuclear materials within the estate.
“Sellafield has considerable expertise in the management of spent fuel and nuclear materials and could play a positive role in achieving our mission in these areas as well as support Britain’s Energy Coast aspirations to develop Sellafield as a centre of nuclear excellence.”
The Authority gives an assurance for stakeholder engagement as part of “capability studies to determine whether we should reprocess (at Sellafield) some material from the Dounreay fast reactor. We will also develop an overall programme for other spent fuel and nuclear materials both at Dounreay and Harwell. No decisions have yet been taken with respect to these materials which are in total consistency less than one per cent of materials at Sellafield.”
Source: Whitehaven News