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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK


Sci/Tech

UK urged to end nuclear reprocessing

There are fears that plutonium could be stolen

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The pressure group Friends of the Earth says a leaked UK Government report shows that the reprocessing of nuclear fuel should stop at once.

The report, An R & D Strategy for the Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel, was prepared by a firm of consultants, Quantisci.

FoE says it shows that there is no technology available for dealing with these wastes, and that no solution is envisaged before 2040.

The report says British Nuclear Fuels, which reprocesses material at its site at Sellafield in northwest England, already has a stockpile of 92 tonnes of plutonium.

If reprocessing continues, this could rise to 150 tonnes. The report calls for urgency in the plans for treating the plutonium to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

But because of mismanagement, FoE says, BNFL may not be able to meet international treatment standards designed to prevent proliferation. The report says the plutonium separated from spent fuel rods should be mixed with highly radioactive wastes to minimise the risk of theft.

'Complacent'

However, FoE says there may not be enough of these wastes available to mix with the plutonium. It says the report considers the possibility of burying the plutonium "in a raw state, unprotected from possible theft".

FoE's nuclear researcher, Dr Rachel Western, said: "This report punctures the dangerous complacency of the nuclear industry".


[ image: BNFL's plant is a state-of-the-art complex]
BNFL's plant is a state-of-the-art complex
"BNFL plans to pile up plutonium indefinitely without regard for the long-term threat it presents.

"Reprocessing at Sellafield continues to make this problem worse and worse. It should stop at once."

The Department of the Environment said it did not comment on leaked reports. But an interim version of the Quantisci report has been in the public domain for some time.

It said it would shortly be issuing a wide-ranging consultation paper on the management of radioactive waste.

On Thursday, the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, an independent expert group, urged the UK Government to declare much of the UK's stock of separated plutonium to be waste.

"This would of course have implications for the way in which spent nuclear fuel is handled within the UK and the case for its reprocessing."





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