Sellafield discharges 'could be cut in months'


Levels of radioactive waste pumped into the Irish Sea from the Sellafield nuclear plant could be drastically cut within months, it emerged today.

Trials will start this autumn on an alternative disposal method for controversial Technetium 99 (Tc-99).

The nuclear by-product has been discharged by the plant since the mid 1960s. The levels now are a fraction of their peak in the late Seventies and early Eighties, but Tc-99 still accounts for the majority of the sea waste from Sellafield.

The British government is under international pressure to cut radioactive waste from the Cumbrian reprocessing plant.

The Irish Government is currently taking action under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea to try to close Sellafield . Norway, with one of the world's largest salmon farming industries, is also worried.

The trials, due to begin in October, are designed to tackle a backlog of older waste containing Tc-99 which cannot be dealt with through the preferred method of turning it into glass blocks.

The new process involves adding the chemical TPP to liquid waste containing Tc-99, producing a solid material.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the state-owned agency which runs Sellafield, say the method, if successful, could cut discharges of Tc-99 by more than 90 per cent.

It would also allow them to beat targets for reducing emissions by 2006. The tests are only going ahead after Nirex, a body which advises on radioactive waste disposal, assessed new information suggesting solid Tc-99 could be stored underground.