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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Submarine N-waste for Sellafield?

SELLAFIELD is tipped to receive medium-level radioactive waste from Britain’s redundant nuclear powered submarines – but at a price.

Many millions of pounds could be sought for community benefits on top of safety and environmental reassurances.

The material from 17 decommissioned nuclear subs will have to be stored safely for up to 100 years before it can be buried for good in an underground repository.

Community leaders will insist on Copeland getting financial benefits if the Ministry of Defence decides Sellafield is its preferred site.

The MoD is considering a range of options for its Submarine Dismantling Programme (SDP) which includes where the radioactive waste should end up. But Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn and Conservative group leader David Moore want community benefits to figure largely.

Coun Moore warned: “There has to be community benefit. Why should we take it otherwise?”

And Coun Woodburn said: “Our concerns are safety for people, the environment and community benefits.”

A national consultation closes tomorrow (Friday) but Coun Woodburn said: “It’s flawed. To carry out a consultation without consulting on where the waste will finally go seems ridiculous.

“Government doesn’t have any joined-up thinking in any shape or form when it comes to dealing with nuclear waste. Consultations have to take place with the local community if they think Sellafield is the solution.

“The government has set its stall out in offering incentives for whoever takes an underground waste repository, so it’s become the norm. Community benefits will have to be looked at and also take account of the volumes of waste involved.”

Both leaders are key members of Copeland Council’s Strategic Nuclear & Energy Board which has discussed the issue.

A report explained: “After leaving service, nuclear powered submarines are currently stored afloat at Devonport and Rosyth Dockyards where they undergo regular maintenance to keep them in a safe condition.

“While this has proved to be an acceptable arrangement for over 30 years, the cost to the taxpayer maintaining them safely is rising significantly and as more submarines leave service. The MoD expects to reach capacity to store further submarines by 2020 by which time a dismantling solution will need to be in place or the MoD will have to invest in creating more berthing space.”

At present the Ministry does not have solutions for dismantling the subs or for storing the intermediate-level waste.

Key decisions have to be reached on how radioactive materials are removed, where they are removed, and what type of storage site is used until it can be disposed of in an underground repository.

The MoD plans to work closely with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority “and wider government” to assess whether it would be more cost-effective to use NDA storage facilities or to develop a new one.

The main implications for Copeland are the possibility that ILW might be stored at Sellafield and that it will have to be transported to an underground repository at some point.

The report to the Strategic Nuclear & Energy Board points out: “Sellafield is one of the potential options for longer term storage for ILW from SDP. Any storage facility must be built to store waste for the next 100 years as no decision has been made about the location of a proposed GDF (geological disposal facility) it will be a long time before it is ready to receive waste. If no GDF was built the ILW would remain at the storage facility for much longer than originally anticipated.

“If the proposed way forward is to store ILW at an NDA site then there is a need to discuss the environmental and social impacts placed on the host community and the potential community benefits arising as a result.”

Some spent fuel taken from nuclear subs in the past is being stored underwater on the site with none of it being reprocessed.

Coun Moore said: “Sellafield is the only place taking waste, so the submarine material won’t be coming unless we see the benefits. This material has to be stored above ground and may even require a new store to be built.”

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