Tuesday, January 17, 2006

‘Fiasco’ of secret nuclear waste tips

15 January 2006 UK Sunday Herald
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

http://www.sundayherald.com/53590

# Probe into Ayrshire dumps
# Questions over lost records
# Concerns of erosion due to global warming and rising seas

INVESTIGATIONS have been launched into the risks to public health and safety
posed by secret radioactive waste dumps on the North Ayrshire coast, the
Sunday Herald can reveal. Thousands of cubic metres of contaminated rubbish
from Hunterston nuclear power station have been dumped in five shoreline
pits accessible to the public. Yet official records of what the pits contain
have been destroyed.

Recent monitoring of the Ayrshire foreshore has uncovered unexpectedly high
levels of radioactivity, and there are mounting concerns that the pits could
be eroded or flooded by the rising sea levels caused by global warming.

The emerging story of the hitherto unknown waste pits has been described as
a “scandal” and a “fiasco” by critics, who are calling for urgent action to
clean up the mess. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and
North Ayrshire Council have both stressed the importance of ensuring public
safety.

The five pits are on reclaimed land outside the perimeter fence of the
Hunterston A nuclear site, near West Kilbride. The two ageing reactors on
the site were closed down 16 years ago, though more modern reactors at the
adjoining Hunterston B site are still generating electricity.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the government agency which is now
overseeing the clean-up of Hunterston A, says the pits contain about 6500
cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste. This is thought to include
contaminated soil, rubble and concrete dumped between 1977 and 1982.

But according to the British Nuclear Group, the state-owned company that
runs Hunterston A, documents detailing the dumped material have been thrown
away. They had been damaged by water leaking into the room where they were
stored.

Now surveys for the company have detected “elevated contamination readings”
at the pits. A patch of soil on the surface of one of the pits was found to
contain traces of the radioactive isotope caesium-137.

The British Nuclear Group, which used to be known as British Nuclear Fuels
Limited, has commissioned a series of studies from consultants. Experts have
been probing the pits in an attempt to find out what they actually contain
and what needs to be done about them.

Another study is examining the condition of the foreshore and its
vulnerability to the long-term effects of climate change, which is predicted
to result in rougher and higher seas. As the Sunday Herald revealed in
November, this is a problem facing many coastal nuclear sites.

Information about the waste pits has emerged only because of persistent
questioning by Rita Holmes, who represents Fairlie Community Council on the
Hunterston Site Stakeholder Group.

“These revelations show just how badly the industry has behaved,” she said.

“It dumped contaminated waste on public land for years and then managed to
lose the records of what it had dumped. As a result, we now have no clear
idea of the threat that the pits pose to public health,” she added.

“This is a scandal, and it will shock people locally and across Scotland. I
fear that the pits are just the tip of the iceberg of the mess we face
cleaning up Hunterston A.”

Holmes thought that the new investigations might help but would not reveal
all the dangers. “The only way to be sure is for all 6500 cubic metres to be
examined,” she argued. “Then, if there is a real risk of erosion, flooding
and leakage, waste will need to be dug out and taken elsewhere. Goodness
knows what problems remain to be discovered.”

Chris Ballance MSP, the Greens’ speaker on nuclear issues, said: “All of
this shows how completely irresponsible and reprehensible the behaviour of
the nuclear industry has been.

“This new and disturbing fiasco at Hunterston is yet another example of the
problems of dealing with a dirty and dangerous technology of the past. The
sooner we move on to sustainable energy for Scotland, the better.”
more....
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