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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 July, 2003, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Sellafield discharges 'may be cut'
Tc-99 has been discharged by Sellafield since the mid-1960s.
Levels of radioactive waste pumped into the Irish Sea from the Sellafield nuclear plant could be drastically cut within months.

New ways of disposing controversial Technetium 99 (Tc-99) are due to be trialled in the autumn.

A report from Greenpeace last month found low-level traces of Tc-99 from Sellafield in Scottish farmed salmon and tests by the Food Standards Agency also found the isotope in salmon from Northern Ireland.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) said the new method, if successful, could cut discharges of Tc-99 by more than 90%.

The trials will be good news if they work
Peter Roche, Greenpeace

The nuclear by-product has been discharged by the plant since the mid 1960s.

Despite the levels being a fraction of those during the late-1970s and early 1980s, Tc-99 still accounts for the majority of the sea waste from Sellafield.

The government has been under international pressure to cut radioactive waste from the Cumbrian reprocessing plant.

The Irish Government is currently taking action under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea to try to close Sellafield, while Norway has always expressed concern.

The trials - due to begin in October - will tackle waste containing Tc-99 which cannot be dealt with through the preferred method of turning it into glass blocks.

The new process involves adding the chemical TPP to liquid waste containing Tc-99, producing a solid material.

'Only solution'

A BNFL spokesman said: "If successful, these trials could significantly speed up our ability to meet the government targets to reduce Tc-99 discharges from Sellafield."

Peter Roche, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "The trials will be good news if they work, but if they don't they shouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion that the only solution is discharges into the sea."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it was pleased the trials would be completed by next March when another wave of Tc-99 discharges is scheduled.

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Environment said: "We await with interest the outcome of the trials."

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