A north American environmental group is pleading for the UK not to dump Dounreay’s toxic nuclear waste in the US.
The plea follows a surprise announcement by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, at a nuclear summit in Washington last week that 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium would be transported from the Caithness nuclear site to the US. It’s the largest shipment of its kind between the two countries.
The uranium comprises a mixture of radioactive powders, pellets and compounds mostly left by an old test reactor, which closed down in 1969. Part of a problematic group of so called “exotic fuels” at Dounreay, they were previously due to be sent to the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria.
Obama’s nuclear security summit was presented to the world as if it were about securing materials that posed a risk, Clements argued. “But this deal with Dounreay affirms that the summit was manipulated to also be about nuclear dumping.”
Clements pointed out that the US already provides uranium for medical isotope reactors, and has a large stockpile. There was likely to be “little connection” between the Dounreay shipment and exports to Europe, he claimed.
It was initially thought that the uranium would go to the Savannah River Site, but this has now been denied by the US government. Clements said that it might end up at Nuclear Fuel Services, a subsidiary of BWX Technologies in Tennessee.
According to a 2013 report by the UK government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), there are about 100 tonnes of various radioactive wastes at Dounreay. Some 26 tonnes of that are characterised as exotic fuels.
About 1,000 kilograms of those fuels are “unirradiated high enriched uranium fuel”, which is likely to include the 700 kilograms destined for the US. It “has a wide range of enrichment values, presenting operational and disposability difficulties”, said the NDA report.
It is not known how the uranium will be transported, though there have been rumours locally of proposed flights from Wick airport. They were raised by the SNP Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, in parliament in December.
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