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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 18:35 GMT
Call for UK nuclear clean-up plan
Dungeness nuclear power station
Nuclear waste can be hazardous for thousands of years
A plan should be formed to dispose of the UK's existing radioactive waste, says government adviser Nirex.

Its data suggests 241,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste and 1,340 of high-level waste will need disposal.

Tony Blair last month launched a review of UK energy needs, and is believed to be convinced of the case for more nuclear power stations.

Science academy the Royal Society has also called for a new commission to advise how to store waste more safely.

NUCLEAR WASTE MAP
Where waste is produced and stored around the UK

Nirex has published its latest inventory of current radioactive waste totals in the UK, and its forecast of waste totals to be created from the operation and decommissioning of existing nuclear facilities.

The figures, based on stocks in April 2004, show an 11% decrease in high-level waste - from 1,510 cubic metres - since the 2001 inventory.

This waste is so radioactive it generates heat and corrodes all containers, and would cause death within days following direct exposure to it.

There was a 1.7% rise - from 237,000 cubic metres in 2001 - in intermediate-level waste.

A 35% increase in only mildly radioactive low-level waste - from 1.51 million cubic metres to 2.04 million - was due to recent declaration of suspect contaminated land, said Nirex.

Material hazard

All low-level waste is currently disposed of, most of it at a purpose-built store in Drigg, Cumbria.

But no facilities have been developed for disposal of intermediate and high-level waste, which can remain a potential hazard for thousands of years.

John Dalton, Nirex corporate communications manager, said: "We have been generating this stuff for 50 years or so - surely we have responsibility to deal with the waste we have got now.

"We don't want to just be passing it on to future generations."

Energy needs

The latest forecasts assume that no new nuclear power stations will be built.

But BBC political editor Nick Robinson says Mr Blair is convinced that building more nuclear power stations is the only way to meet energy needs and stick to the targets on climate change.

"Surely it would be sensible for us to consider what we are going to do with this waste before we enter into a new-build scenario," said Mr Dalton.

David Wild, director of communications at Nirex, later clarified Mr Dalton's comments by saying the group recognised that waste currently exists.

"The waste exists now in 37 different sites around the UK and needs to be dealt with properly whether or not there are any new power stations," Mr Wild added.

The government-appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) is due to recommend final disposal options in July this year.

It is trying to arrive at "consensus choices" on the best way to look after waste for the medium and long term. It will not, however, consider sites where the waste could be put - only how it should be dealt with.

A report earlier this month from the Royal Society recommended that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs creates a successor to CoRWM.

It said there was a need for an independent body to continue to develop management strategies after July.




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A look at the clean-up taking place at Sellafield



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