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Deep waste delay forces surface storage switch

BRITAIN'S NUCLEAR industry is building long-term aboveground storage bunkers for radioactive waste because the UK government has failed to come up with alternative options.

All of the UK's nuclear licensed sites are building, or have already built, stores for intermediate level radioactive waste with design lives well in excess of 100 years.

They have been forced to act because the government has yet to decide whether to approve plans to store waste deep underground. The move effectively pre-empts a government decision backing indefinite surface storage, said UKAEA Dounreay's head of engineering, Sandy McWhirter. UKAEA is Britain's nuclear decommissioning agency.

Sites building above ground storage include those owned by UKAEA, reprocessing and generator firms BNFL and BNFL Magnox, and the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.

Controversial plans for a deep rock repository, to be built and managed by nuclear waste specialist Nirex were shelved in 1996.

Environmental lobby groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace strongly oppose the option and favour storing waste above ground, where it can be monitored and, if necessary, radiological containment can be improved.

But the nuclear industry still believes permanent disposal of waste deep in the ground is the optimum technical solution.

Two years ago the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology report Management of nuclear waste stated that a deep rock repository was the safest and most viable of all present options.

The strategy is also favoured by regulator the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Environment Agency.

However with public consultation likely to take anything up to 50 years, and if approved, any such facility taking a further 10 years to build, the decision will come too late for many facilities, which are already being decommissioned.

Dounreay in Scotland, for example, needs to have intermediate level waste stores in place by 2008.

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