Nuclear sites must do better on waste treatment

The nuclear industry made "very good" progress towards meeting improvement objectives including reducing radioactive discharges to water, the Environment Agency has reported. Nevertheless, it says much more work is needed to treat radioactive waste.1

The objectives were agreed in a joint Agency-nuclear industry sector plan published in 2005 (ENDS Report 370, p 12 ). Similar plans have been agreed with the chemicals, cement, waste and dairy sectors.

The report covers performance in 2006 at about 30 sites in England and Wales licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 or run by the Ministry of Defence.

Total radioactive discharges to water have fallen since 2002. Sellafield has cut discharges of radioactive technetium-99 from 190 terabequerels in 1995 to less than 10TBq in 2006.

A challenge for the sector has been to improve management of intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) by increasing the proportion that has been adequately treated by encapsulating it in cement and packaging it in steel containers, making it suitable for long-term storage.

The total volume of ILW in 2006 was 76,378 cubic metres, with total radioactivity of over 4.5 million TBq. A further 133,470m3 of ILW will be produced by work to shut down nuclear sites.

Only three sites - Sellafield, Trawsfynydd and Windscale - have started to treat ILW adequately. By 2006, they had treated 18,259m3 - a quarter of the total. Other sites with 19,220m3 of ILW have yet to treat their waste to the required standard.

The Agency says improvements are needed, but the plan sets no quantitative target.

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