Published: 05/08/2011 11:00 - Updated: 03/08/2011 16:33

Not fuel and not waste - so what is it?

DFR ‘material’ should be moved from Dounreay to Sellafield for reprocessing, according to the NDA.
DFR ‘material’ should be moved from Dounreay to Sellafield for reprocessing, according to the NDA.

NEWS from the land of doublespeak, or in this case the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), is the release of a report called Exotic Fuels – Dounreay Fast Reactor, Credible and Preferred Options.

Hailing from the school of “if we say it’s credible then it is”, this report is a damning indictment of how the NDA works and drives an axe through some fairly reasonable attempts in recent times to treat the public as if they are intelligent enough to make their own decisions about what should happen to our nuclear “legacy”, i.e. scrap metal and rubble at Dounreay and other nuclear sites.

Before the reader even reaches the options on what to do with the scrap sitting in the Dounreay sphere, the report begins by telling people how they should refer to the stuff in question.

“The breeder material is not classified as a fuel, as it does not take part in the nuclear ‘core’ reaction and is not converted into fission products, but neither is it waste. This is why, to avoid confusion, it is referred to as ‘material’,” it says.

It goes on: “The breeder material is radioactive, but much less so than fuel since it does not contain large amounts of fission products, and it has also been cooled since 1977.”

The breeder material, which can be described as waste, depending on your personal opinion, has been stuck in the reactor since 1977. It is so stuck that special plans have been drawn up to cut it out. Stating that it has been “cooled since 1977” is rather ambiguous and could be quite misleading. This is just section one of the report that claims to make a “clear and compelling case” that the waste should not be immobilised as waste (the current plan) but exported to England for reprocessing.

To cut a long story short, with no appraisal of the litany of problems that have beset reprocessing at Sellafield, the NDA concludes that the “opportunity” of sending DFR material for reprocessing in Cumbria is just “a reversion to the original plan”.

Indeed, earlier the NDA reminds us that 30 tonnes of breeder material were sent to Sellafield for reprocessing between 1967 and 1972. Oh well, in that case…

The NDA highlights uncertainty about disposing of the DFR waste. This is put across as concern about the security of disposal of plutonium. Is the NDA suggesting that the “small” amount of plutonium in DFR cannot be immobilised and disposed of securely? If this is true, then why has the case for it being immobilised and disposed of been held for so long by Dounreay’s operators? This implies that Dounreay is not being safe and secure in its plans for plutonium (which would have been sanctioned by the NDA anyway).

The report states: “In terms of reprocessing technology, the chemical, physical and radiological properties of DFR material are sufficiently close to spent Magnox fuel to allow the material to be managed using the same facilities. Thus it appears rational that the strategy for the management of DFR material and Magnox fuel be the same.”

Again there is no mention of the serious problems with Magnox reprocessing, and who could disagree with an argument about chemical composition when part of this data is top secret – because it contains roughly 35.2kg of plutonium or “small quantities”.

And while the NDA turns a blind eye to the failures of the very expensive Magnox reprocessing programme (other than its lateness and non-delivery being a way of slipping DFR breeder waste into the programme), the NDA is happy to bring past nuclear experience in as an argument against immobilisation.

It states: “The nuclear sector has historically found it difficult to develop immobilisation options for bulk quantities of uranium metal, but there may be value in maintaining a watching brief on these activities and continuing some development work as a contingency.”

The UK nuclear industry, particularly at Sellafield, has found it difficult to get on with reprocessing on time and on budget, to put it mildly. Perhaps the NDA should begin a “watching brief” on the current performance of reprocessing at Sellafield rather than casting aspersions on immobilisation techniques?

In my opinion, the NDA has pushed the idea of exporting the DFR waste to Sellafield Magnox reprocessing plant not because it is credible or rational, but to shift the cost burden to another set of books and help the business case for reprocessing nuclear fuel at the failing Sellafield plant.

It flies in the face of all the work that has been done for us to accept responsibility for our own nuclear “legacy” and the argument about how the waste

material/plutonium is described is simply an attempt to sidestep Scottish Government policies and stakeholder views on not exporting nuclear waste.

If ever you needed an example of how myopic this report is, then it is the footnote on page seven: “Although planned as disposal in [a] geological disposal facility, NDA fully recognises Scottish policy for higher activity wastes and, if this material were to be treated as a waste, the policy would apply.

“The geological disposal facility remains in the plan as a placeholder pending an implementation strategy for the Scottish higher activity waste policy.”

So here we find that the material

waste/asset/liability can be treated as waste and the current policy of our Government is simply a footnote to a slanted report on what the NDA would like to do.

SUMMER holidays, beaches and swimming go hand in hand and to mark this the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has advised the public that daily predicted water quality information can be accessed somewhere buried in its website (www.sepa.org.uk).

Sadly, our environment watchdog’s water quality electronic message signs have not been performing well, with technical problems at Southerness, Aberdeen, Dhoon Bay, Millport Bay, Eyemouth, Sandyhills, Seamill, Rockcliff, Troon, Southbeach and Brighouse Bay.

This means people will just have to guess how much poo is in the water when they turn up at the beach for a swim.

Thanks to European directives, amongst other things, most people now accept that untreated human sewage should not be released into the sea or inland waterways. The same can’t be said of some dog owners who seem to think it is okay to leave dog dirt all over the beach as the tide might wash it away.

This was my experience recently at Reiss beach, where we had to pull the children away from dog dirt while they were supposed to be enjoying one of our lovely Caithness beaches.

This is a contrast to a recent visit to Loch Insh Water Sports, near Aviemore, where it is made clear that all dog owners should abide by the rules about picking up dog dirt and keeping to certain areas.

Closer to home, the debate about dog walking seems to emphasise the rights of dog owners to take dogs in cemeteries.

Even bearing in mind that there are responsible dog owners who do pick up the dirt (not the urine of course), where is the discussion about my rights to take my children for a walk without having to pull the kids away from urine-soaked lamp posts and beaches spoiled by turds?

IS summer encouraging you to spend time with your family outdoors or are you glued to the telly? If it’s the latter then beware, as new research has revealed that video-game addiction is being cited in a growing number of divorce petitions.

A study has shown that husbands are getting more pleasure from playing World of Warcraft and Call of Duty than cuddling up to their wives at night.

A survey by Divorce Online examined dozens of unreasonable behaviour petitions filed by women using its service between January and April this year.

In 15 per cent of cases the wives complained that their husbands were happier to play on their games consoles than pay them attention, and cited gaming addiction as part of their husbands’ unreasonable behaviour.

Ryan G. Van Cleave, an expert on video-game addiction and author of Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction, said many partners were unaware that gaming can become an actual addiction.

Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce Online, which carried out the research on 200 unreasonable behaviour petitions filed by women, said: “The increase in the number of video-game addiction cases could be a consequence of the recession, or it might be being used by men in particular as a means of escape from an already unhappy relationship.”

However, living in a house without a games console is no guarantee of a happy marriage. I, myself, have been cursed for persistently reading books – another form of “unreasonable behaviour”?

Corrina Thomson is on Facebook and Twitter @corrinathomson

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