UCC keeping 2.5 tonnes of uranium in basement store

 

Uranium stored in a basement in University College Cork is to remain there in the absence of a national waste repository or the Government paying for it to be taken away, a radiation protection officer said yesterday.

The 2.5 tonnes of uranium rods have been kept in a secured store in the basement of the university's physics department since 1986.

Yesterday, UCC's radiation protection officer, Dr William Reville, said: "We're not storing nuclear waste or the remnants of a nuclear reactor."

He said he inquired some years ago about having the uranium taken away but it would have cost something like £4 million (€6 million) at the time.

"The ideal solution would be if the Government had a national waste repository which would hold unwanted substances.

"In the absence of that and in the absence of the Government coming up with the money to export it, it will have to sit where it is," he said.

The uranium was classified as sensitive material but it was natural uranium, the type that was found in the earth, he said. It was not a hazard as it sat in the store. It was in a very safe place.

It was part of a student training reactor, now dismantled, and it had generated no power. It was not a commercial reactor.

"It bore as much relation to a commercial reactor as a lighted match does to the sun. The uranium is not nuclear waste," Dr Reville said.

The senior scientific officer in the Regulatory Service of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), Dr John O'Grady, said they had been licensing the uranium since 1977 and its storage conditions met all safety requirements.

It was inspected annually by the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), and by the RPII on a periodic basis.

"There are all sorts of checks and monitoring and there is never the least danger of radiation being produced," he said.

It was uranium for a small research reactor and was far from being the material needed for a satisfactory power generator.

Dr O'Grady said there might be a route for disposal but it was very expensive.

"Until there is both the will and the money, it will just lie there," Dr O'Grady said.

Cork people knew all about it over the years and if anybody wanted information they could contact the RPII or Dr Reville, he said.

"We've never hesitated to licence it," he said.

The reactor was given to Ireland by the US under the Atoms for Peace Programme in 1974. In the 1980s, it was decommissioned and taken apart.