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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 02:34 GMT
Science backs nuclear burial plan
Deep nuclear storage facility (Posiva)
The facility would be deep underground
Scientists have backed the government's plan to store the UK's nuclear waste deep underground.

The report, from experts working across science and technology, concluded there were "no insurmountable scientific or technological barriers" to the scheme.

It urged the government to maintain momentum in implementing the policy, but recommended key areas where more research was needed to move forward.

These included finding suitable sites and addressing skills shortages.

The report resulted from a meeting of geologists, engineers, nuclear experts and chemists that took place in November.

Professor Charles Curtis, president of The Geological Society of London, presenting the report, said: "After a long period without waste policy, the UK finally has a way to go forward.

This is a 'grey-haired profession'; we have an ageing population of nuclear professionals.
Charles Curtis

"We concur the safest and most secure way to go is deep geological depositories, and we see no insurmountable scientific and technological barriers to this."

However, the report highlighted a number of key issues that would need to be addressed.

It said a repository site would need to be found that was both geologically secure and also accepted by the local community.

Dr Alan Hooper, of radioactive waste management company Nirex, said between one-third and two-thirds of the UK had the suitable geological make-up for deep nuclear waste burial.

Spent nuclear fuel in a cooling pond at Sellafield, UK
Long term storage of radioactive waste has been an issue for years

The report also said the government would need to address whether repositories should be kept open, so the waste could be monitored, or sealed off immediately.

It also highlighted the need to establish whether different types of nuclear waste should be stored separately in different repositories or kept together.

Professor Curtis said another key concern was the decline in the UK's nuclear skills base.

He said: "At the moment, this is a 'grey-haired profession'; we have an ageing population of nuclear professionals.

"We need a nuclear skills renaissance so the implementation of a repository can be supported for the future."

In October 2006, Environment Secretary David Miliband said the government would follow the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management's (CORWM) recommendation to bury radioactive waste in facilities hundreds of metres underground.

The committee had come to this conclusion after spending three years investigating a long-term solution to the UK's radioactive waste problem: for the last 50 years it has been stored at a variety of sites using a number of methods.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said Defra welcomed the report, and said a consultation on the process of site selection for the repository would begin later this year.

Finland is already building an underground facility and is on course to become the first country in the world to dispose of nuclear waste in such a way.

Deep disposal of nuclear waste (BBC)

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