‘Intolerable risk’ from hazardous waste at Sellafield nuclear plant
Published 07/11/2012 | 12:01
THE public will be forced to live with an "intolerable risk" from hazardous waste stored in run-down buildings at the Sellafield nuclear power plant.
A major report also says it will be more than 100 years before it is cleaned up, at a cost of more than £67bn (€83bn).
The damning report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) says that the cost of decommissioning the plant has spiralled out of control, and some facilities used to store waste have deteriorated.
Sellafield is the UK’s most hazardous nuclear site, storing the equivalent of 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools of radioactive waste.
It is situated in Cumbria in north-west England, opposite Louth where campaigners have been vocal about the risks of the site.
It is unclear how long it will take to build storage and treatment facilities, and some of the older storage tanks on site have “deteriorated so much that their contents pose significant risks to people and the environment”, it says.
The Government here has repeatedly raised the issue of Sellafield with its UK counterparts, particularly in relation to discharges into the Irish Sea and the risk of an accident at the plant.
The NAO report says the highest risks are posed by ponds and silos built in the 1950s and 1960s, used to store radioactive waste and fuel for reprocessing. Over the five decades it has been open, the operators failed to plan on how to dispose of this cancer-causing waste.
The waste is usually a by-product of nuclear power generation, most of which comes from the UK. The most dangerous, called High Level Waste, is converted into glass blocks before being placed in steel containers and placed in a store where it is cooled by air for at least 50 years.
A plan to clean up the site was agreed last year after an earlier one stalled because it was "unrealistic".
The National Audit Office said: "Owing to historic neglect, the authority faces a considerable challenge in taking forward decommissioning at Sellafield. It is good that the authority now has a more robust lifetime plan in place but it cannot say with certainty how long it will take to deal with hazardous radioactive waste or how much it will cost.”
The report concluded that progress in 12 of the 14 major buildings and equipment projects considered "critical" for reducing risk, which range in cost from £21m to £1.3bn, also failed to achieve what they were supposed to and had not provided good value for money.
The UK Government plants to build new nuclear plants as older one become obsolete, with eight sites deemed suitable.