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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 06:29 GMT
Radioactive waste clean-up
Dounreay
The operation gets under way this week
Work is starting on what is regarded as one of the most challenging clean-up jobs in the British nuclear industry.

New boreholes are to be drilled around the Dounreay site in Caithness in preparation for emptying the plant's waste shaft, which contains highly radioactive debris dumped there during the 1960s and 1970s.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority is keen to build up as much knowledge of the surrounding geology and water-flows before it retrieves the dangerous cocktail of radioactive sludge.

A number of surveys are planned over the next couple of months which will provide the vital ground characteristics of the site.

The fresh information will help determine which technique is adopted to manage the shaft while the waste is being retrieved.

Water flows

The UKAEA intends to clean out existing boreholes around the shaft and to drill a number of new ones to monitor groundwater flows.

Two of these are earmarked to be drilled next month to the south of the main site, adjoining the main A836 road, and others are planned in the hills behind the site.

The unlined shaft contains an estimated 640 cubic metres of assorted radioactive debris.

It was created during the construction of a sub-sea pipeline and used as a makeshift dump from the late 1950s until 1977 when a hydrogen explosion blew off its concrete lid.

Some industry sources believe the final bill for the emptying of the shaft could be close to 1bn.

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