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Green light for transfer of spent nuclear fuel from Dounreay

By Iain Grant

Anti-nuclear campaigners are vehemently opposed to the fuel being transported by rail to Cumbria.
Anti-nuclear campaigners are vehemently opposed to the fuel being transported by rail to Cumbria.

THE quango in charge of cleaning up the UK’s civil reactor sites has given the green light for the transfer of spent fuel from Dounreay to Sellafield in Cumbria.

Anti-nuclear organisations are against the proposed rail haulage of the highly radioactive material, due to get under way next summer.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority okayed the plans to move loads from the former UKAEA reactor sites at Dounreay and Harwell for reprocessing at Sellafield.

Friends of the Earth Scotland has condemned the movements as unnecessary and exposing the public to unacceptable risks of an accident or sabotage in transit.

The Dounreay material comprises 44 tonnes of uranium

There would be about 50 movements over five years of the fuel flasks on the 300-plus mile journey from Caithness to Cumbria.

The haulage would be carried out by Direct Rail Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NDA.

Claiming the movements are the best environmental option, the NDA maintains the transport of nuclear material to and from UK has an exemplary safety record.

A spokesman said: “Nuclear materials are transported on a daily basis across the UK and it has an excellent safety record.

“It’s now totted up to 100,000 miles and over half a century without incident. It’s tried and tested technology.” Prominent nuclear consultant John Large yesterday condemned the proposal.

He said: “We’re talking about bomb-grade material that would be a target for terrorists.

“It is also fuel from an experimental reactor which will have got broken up and will have been in storage in an uncertain condition.

“It will be very difficult to inspect it before it is transported and the only safeguard is based on their assumption that they would not encounter an accident with a big enough impact to break open the flask.”

London-based Dr Large points out the NDA safety reassurances are based on a relatively low number of movements.

He said: “I believe the risk assessments of the nuclear industry are fundamentally flawed, as was graphically shown by the Fukushima disaster.”

Stan Blackley, chief executive of FOE Scotland, said: “We believe Scotland should phase out the use of nuclear power as quickly as possible. However, we should also take responsibility for the historical wastes resulting from our country’s regrettable nuclear past.

“There are no proven waste disposal routes for nuclear waste, which should therefore be securely stored, with full retrievability, above ground and as close as practical to where it arose, in this case at Dounreay.”

Mr Blackley described the train movements of the fuel as unnecessary and risky.

The £60 million operation has been costed as £5 million less than the bill for the indefinite storage of the material at the site.

The NDA decision has been welcomed by Dounreay site licence company DSRL.

“We’ve moved out the foreign nuclear fuel over the past 10 years and this decision lets us now start returning the UK fuel,” said DSRL’s head of fuel and waste Alex Anderson.

“It is the beginning of the end for nuclear transports in the Highlands.”

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