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Nuclear waste Wednesday, 22 April, 1998, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Nuclear waste row escalates
Destination Dounreay: The nuclear power plant in Scotland will take delivery of the uranium
The government is facing a barrage of protest over its controversial decision to accept a shipment of nuclear waste from the former Soviet Union.

Politicians and environmentalists are expected to keep up hostile questioning on the issue after secret plans to import the consignment of uranium were published in an American newspaper

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, defended the government. He said the material was not highly radioactive, but highly explosive. He also stressed that the material would not be transformed into large volumes of highly radioactive waste.

Robin Cook: Medical benefit
Most of the waste would be turned into medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer patients, he said. The 5kg of radioactive, weapons-grade uranium will come to Britain from the former Soviet province of Georgia. It is expected to arrive for reprocessing at Scotland's Dounreay Nuclear Power Plant within days.

Environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth led the charge against the decision. Politicians, including those from the government benches, are also demanding a re-think.

'Nuclear dustbin'

Helen Wallace of Greenpeace said this shipment was just the tip of the iceberg.

"Britain imports waste from plenty of other countries too. We are simply being used as a nuclear dustbin," she said.

Helen Wallace: "Britain is a nuclear dustbin"
In the House of Commons on Wednesday morning, Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn warned the consignment exposed "the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear reprocessing".

Mr Corbyn added: "It's time we seriously challenged the whole question of the nuclear argument."

The Scottish National Party is also pressing for answers about the consignment.

Its environment spokeswoman, Roseanna Cunnningham, asked: "What were the range of options considered for dealing with this waste? If the waste is a matter of international concern why do none of the powers directly involved want anything to do with it?

"When was the Secretary of State for Scotland informed? When were people in Caithness and Scotland to be told about this operation? Were there any plans to consult the public?"

The aging neclear reactor in Tiblisi where the waste will come from
Protesters have also accused Tony Blair of by-passing the official channels in agreeing to accept the waste. The prime minister is accused of striking a hushed deal with US President Bill Clinton after France and Russia refused to accept the uranium.

The government has sought to explain its action claiming that the uranium could fall into the hands of terrorists if it was not looked after by a responsible power. It could then be used in the making of a nuclear weapon.

'Not a bad bargain'

The UK foreign secretary said the US had already accepted some 600kg of nuclear material from the former Soviet Union.

"We are accepting in this case some 5kg. If we are looking at the risk, then if this material was to be used in a nuclear weapon in the Middle East, Britain and Europe would get far more than 1% of the nuclear fallout," Mr Cook said.

"So taking 1% (of the material) isn't a bad bargain from our point of view."

Dounreay is currently banned from accepting nuclear material while a safety review is in progress.

However, special dispensation has been granted by the Health and Safety Executive for this one-off off consignment on the grounds this was not a commercial contract and the amount involved was small.

BBC News
Robin Cook: "It is very much in our national interest" (0'33")
BBC News
BBC Environment Correspondent Richard Wilson: Enough uranium to make a small bomb (2'23")
BBC News
Conservative environment spokesman Tim Yeo: "The government's got some explaining to do" (2'31")
See also:

23 Apr 98 | Nuclear waste
21 Apr 98 | Despatches
02 Jun 98 | Nuclear waste
22 Apr 98 | UK
22 Apr 98 | Nuclear waste
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