End of the line?
By Rob Edwards A BACKLOG of high-level radioactive waste may force Britain to close down some of its nuclear power stations, argues a report by the government’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) which has been leaked to New Scientist. More than 1300 cubic metres of hot liquid waste from reactors is stored in 21 constantly cooled tanks at Sellafield in Cumbria. In order to reduce the risk of a serious accident, the NII wants the state-owned company that runs the plant, British Nuclear Fuels, to empty the tanks by 2015. But BNFL is so badly behind schedule that the NII is “unconvinced” that it will meet the deadline. The inspectorate blames the delay on blocked pipes, faulty equipment and failure to get a new plant working in order to solidify the waste into glass blocks. In the leaked report, the NII threatens legal action to force BNFL to reduce the build-up of liquid waste by halting or slowing the reprocessing of spent fuel from reactors. The knock-on effect of that, the NII warns, would be the premature closure of some of the 10 old Magnox stations now run by BNFL. The report, which is due to be published by the NII before Christmas, says that the 2015 deadline must be achieved “as any shortfall will be unacceptable both publicly and politically”. BNFL will be allowed to maintain a small stock of liquid waste in the tanks, although this amount has yet to be agreed. According to BNFL, its strategy has long been to reduce the storage of liquid high-level waste to minimal levels by 2015. “We can say categorically that nothing has changed in that,” says a company spokesman. Nuclear Free Local Authorities, a group of local councils opposed to nuclear power whose concern about the safety of the waste tanks prompted the new report, doubts whether BNFL will succeed without tough regulation. “The sooner NII acts decisively, the better,