Thursday, January 03, 2002

Environmental groups have voiced concern at BNFL's slow progress in dealing with its legacy of nuclear waste.

It came at a conference at Westlakes, near Whitehaven, arranged by Cumbria County Council, as part of the consultation towards a possible nuclear waste dump, beneath West Cumbria.

Sellafield's head of operational development, Dr Peter Manning, said: "Virtually all the nation's nuclear junk comes to Sellafield."

Mr Manning told the gathering that 12,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste had been treated and safely drummed for storage, but this only represented 10% of the total amount of the intermediate level nuclear waste at Sellafield.

He also conceded that it was "not economic to recycle uranium produced from nuclear reprocessing.''

Rachel Weston, from Friends of the Earth, accused Sellafield bosses of "complacency" in only dealing with one fifth of their nuclear waste backlog. She said: "If you suffered an accident with the highly-active liquid waste tanks, the accident would be 40 times more serious than Chernobyl.''

Copeland councillor, Janet Johnston (Lab) told the nuclear waste conference: "There is collusion, implying that we in West Cumbria should be left to sort it out.''

Cumbrian anti-nuclear group CORE was represented at the conference by Mr Martin Forwood who said: "Thirty years have already been wasted in the search for a nuclear waste solution. In retrospect it is clear that much of the blame for failure to off-load this on an unwilling community can be laid at the door of Big Brother secrecy.''

He said the ability to retrieve waste had to be a high priority and he voiced concern at the House of Lords select committee urging underground disposal as being safer from terrorists attack.

Mr Forwood pointed out: "It is debatable whether a nuclear dump would be a terrorist target. An operating nuclear power station or reprocessing plant would be a far more likely target.''

Chris Murray from Nirex said his organisation accepted it had not been as open and transparent as it should have been in the past but he said Nirex still saw its "end game" as a 2,000 foot deep underground repository, but he said thinking had changed and Nirex now advocated greater retrievability.

Just a few years ago Nirex was pressing for the nuclear waste caverns to be back-filled with soft concrete mix, but now it envisaged open caverns so waste could be retrieved in the event of future changes.