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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 16:55 GMT
Cuts in nuclear waste planned
Sellafield plant, Cumbria
Nuclear waste from Sellafield will be cut
Radioactive waste discharge from the Sellafield nuclear power plant could be halted as early as next year.

The government announced on Wednesday it may temporarily stop the discharges of the waste product technetium-99 (Tc-99) into the Irish Sea as soon as April 2003.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher made the announcement as the government pledged to reduce the current output of Tc-99 into the Irish Sea by at least 80% by 2006.

Mr Meacher said a new, but currently problematic processing treatment, could cause all discharge into the sea to be virtually eliminated.

Harmful elements

The UK has said even the current emission level of 90TBq a year is perfectly safe, Ireland and Scandinavian countries bordering the North Sea have raised concerns.

Mr Meacher responded by saying levels would be cut to 10TBq a year by 2006.

If a new processing technique was perfected, that could be reduced to almost zero.

In the current treatment process, other more harmful radioactive waste elements are removed while Tc-99 is left behind and discharged into the sea.

One alternative involves treating Tc-99 with a chemical called TPP that causes it to solidify, allowing it to be removed from the other more dangerous waste components.

However it is not known whether this can be done safely.

'Welcome move'

Mr Meacher said: "If TPP works that resolves the situation: there will be no further discharges to sea.

"But I cannot guarantee that at this stage."

Mr Meacher said there would be a period of discussion and investigation by the Environment Agency and the government, which could result in a moratorium on all discharge by mid next year.

Roger Higman, from Friends of the Earth, said: "Any cut in pollution limits at Sellafield is welcome, but discharges should have been stopped years ago."


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24 Jul 02 | England
19 Jun 02 | Health
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