IRELAND & DENMARK: Call for end to Sellafield reprocessing

Ireland and Denmark will both table proposals for an end to nuclear fuel re-processing at the UK Sellafield site in Cumbria at a meeting of the Ospar Commission in June.

Ireland’s minister of state for public enterprise, Joe Jacob, who has led the campaign against continued reprocessing at Sellafield, has succeeded in convincing Denmark’s environment minister, Svend Auken, to join in the fight.

“Under Ospar there’s supposed to be close to zero radioactive discharges to sea by 2020 and reprocessing generates the bulk of Sellafield’s discharges,” an Irish energy spokesperson told edie (see related story).

The annual Ospar meeting will take place in Copenhagen this June. “Denmark has submitted its own draft and we have our own,” says the Irish spokesperson. “I believe that they’re both calling for a cessation of reprocessing.”

Ireland is hoping that Denmark’s stance will mean that other members of the Nordic Council (see related story) will support the call for an end to re-processing. “The Norwegians have been quite vocal about Sellafield discharges – there has been accumulation along Norway’s coastline,” says the Irish spokesperson. “And Iceland is another country that is concerned.”

While Ospar offers an avenue for Ireland to facilitate multilateral pressure on the UK to end Sellafield discharges, there is less room to manoeuvre on the question of high level radioactive waste (HLW) stored at Sellafield. Current levels of liquid HLW, stored in tanks, has caused the UK’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) some concern and it has put pressure on Sellafield operators, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), to stick to a deadline of 2015 for reducing the amount of HLW stored in liquid form.

The volatility of liquid HLW has led to a programme of vitrification – storage in glass blocks. The NII has issued reminders to BNFL that the 2015 deadline must be met, while the Irish Government believes the threat posed by current levels of liquid HLW warrants a speed-up in the vitrification programme. “We’re continually putting pressure on the UK Government on the issue of HLW being stored in tanks,” says the Irish spokesperson. “It’s not taking place at the rate we would like to see.”

Addressing the Irish Seanad on 2 March, Joe Jacob cited seven areas of concern regarding the current operation of Sellafield by BNFL. They are:

  • poor safety management
  • storage in liquid form of HLW
  • continued expansion of activities at the site (see separate story in the UK section of this edition of edie news)
  • continued reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel
  • discharges of radioactive waste into the Irish Sea
  • the ageing Calder Hall magnox reactors at the site
  • the “risk, however remote, of a catastrophic accident”

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