Weapon waste accounts for surge in UK’s nuclear inventory

The latest audit of the UK's nuclear waste has seen a substantial surge as contaminated ground from Britain's atomic weapons establishment is tallied up as low level waste for the first time.

Every three years Defra and Nirex publishes an inventory of radioactive waste currently held by the UK and predictions for waste which the country will have to deal with in the future arising from existing nuclear facilities and other sources such as hospitals and labs.

The latest figures date back to the situation in April, 2004 and do not take into account the possible outcomes of the Government’s energy review.

Even without the predicted impact of a new generation of nuclear power stations, the amount of present and predicted future low level waste has shot up by 35% since the last audit three years ago.

A Defra spokesman told edie that this is largely due to changes in definitions of radioactive waste, however, rather than any huge waste stream being previously overlooked by officials.

Of the additional 470,000m3 of low level waste, for example, 370,000m3 is made up of contaminated ground from the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) with a further 20,000m3 of contaminated soil from other sites.

The forecast of total high level waste is 1,340m3, 11% less than it was in 2001, while intermediate level raise has risen by a modest 2% to 217,000m3.

The figures for all three levels of waste will, of course, become little more than a historical guideline if the Government decides to plumb for the nuclear option following the energy review and build a new generation of reactors, as most commentators predict it will.

The full inventory can be found on the Nirex website

By Sam Bond

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