First quarter of 2002

Sellafield Radioactive Waste Management: A Bit of High Level = A Lot of Low Level?

WISE-Paris, 30 January 2002

[Posted 30/01/2002]

The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Meacher, has stated that the Sellafield operator British Nuclear Fuels Ltd wishes to operate “Curie-Swap” on the foreign waste arising from reprocessing in the UK. In his answer to Mr. Llew Smith's parliamentary question on the management of radioactive waste in the UK (see hereunder), Mr. Meacher confirmed that BNFL opted for the return of small volumes of high level waste instead of huge volumes of intermediate and low level wastes arising from reprocessing of foreign spent fuels at Sellafield.

According to the replies by four Japanese utilities to a public questionnaire from two citizen groups (Green Action, Kyoto and Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Tokyo), BNFL has offered the waste exchange to all oversees customers in October 1996. As for substitution with Cogema, all four companies stated that this would not happen, and that low and intermediate waste would be returned to Japan in glass canister or bitumen form.

However, waste exchange operated on the basis of the radioactive content of the wastes is also COGEMA’s current option for the management of foreign wastes in France. The largest volumes of waste are in the form of cemented low level waste. Neither operators, client companies nor governments are currently considering to send back these wastes, in spite of the illegal storage of foreign wastes in France.

If the Curie-Swap option is put into practice, the United Kingdom, like France, will have to face the additional problems of the management of the intermediate and low level wastes, for instance the numerous transports as well as the construction and operation of large-scale final disposal facilities.

Hansard [Official Report] 28 January 2002, Columns 83-4W

Nuclear Security

Column 98

Radioactive Waste

Llew Smith:

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if it is her policy to ensure that radioactive waste arising from the reprocessing of spent fuel for overseas customers under contracts signed since 1976 will be returned to countries of origin without any element of substitution. [15898]

Mr. Meacher:

This is one of the issues on which we have invited public comments in our 12 September consultation paper "Managing radioactive waste safely". A copy is in the Library. Pages 25-26 of the paper say that British Nuclear Fuels plc wishes to substitute a small volume of high level waste in place of larger volumes of intermediate or low level waste returned to overseas customers, but that is dependent on how high or intermediate level waste should be managed in the UK in the long term —the main issue addressed in the consultation paper. No decision has been taken.

The paper invites views on the link between "waste substitution" and the availability of a long-term management strategy. The consultation period closes on 12 March.

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