Robots to speed up nuclear clean-up

Robots will be brought in to clean up the seabed as part of a long-term operation to decommission a nuclear site in Scotland.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has unveiled proposals for remotely-operated vehicles to scour an area of seabed the size of 60 football pitches over the next three summers around the Dounreay site on the north coast.

Experts believe this will allow the offshore clean-up to be substantially completed within just seven years – quicker than previously expected – at a cost of between £18m and £25m.

Onshore monitoring and removal of hazardous particles will continue for a longer period, under UKAEA’s draft action plan, which follows a two-year public consultation.

Simon Middlemas, Dounreay director said: “We have done an enormous amount of technical studies and have accumulated a huge amount of information which allows us to move forward to identify options which clearly, after extensive consultation, shows that this is an environmentally and publicly acceptable way forward.”

He added: “I would like to stress that this is a preliminary recommendation and we have invited further public comment before we review and agree on how to take this forward with the key agencies and affected land owners.”

UKAEA bosses believe the removal of offshore particles will reduce the amount of contaminated material washing up on nearby beaches, and their plans have been welcomed by Sandside Estate, which owns the affected Sandside Bay Beach.

Sandside Estate owner Geoffrey Minter said: “I am now confident that something will be done and there are clear signals that the issue is beginning to receive the attention it deserves.”

Trials of the robots will be carried out at the end of the year.

Members of the public will be given a final say on the plans before UKAEA produce their final recommendations to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Kate Martin

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