British nuke weapons sites rife with waste - report
LONDON - Britains nuclear weapons plants may be contaminated by far more radioactive and toxic waste than previously thought, New Scientist said on Wednesday.
The magazine, quoting from what it called a confidential report by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), said the Ministry of Defence may also have seriously underestimated the amount of waste being stored at two sites west of London and one in Wales.
"Areas contaminated with asbestos, plutonium, depleted uranium, beryllium and tritium have been identified. Until comprehensive surveys have been completed, the potential extent of the problem will be unclear," it quoted the report as saying.
"There may be accumulations of wastes, both radioactive and toxic, in buildings on the sites that are not included in any identified inventory."
State-owned BNFL - in a consortium with Lockheed Martin of the United States and management consultants Serco Ltd - took over the running of Britains three Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at the start of April.
COMPANIES DISMISS MAGAZINE REPORT
Officials at BNFL and AWE dismissed the magazines claims about the "confidential report" on the sites at Aldermaston, Burghfield and Cardiff.
"It is utter nonsense," Graeme Hammond, head of corporate affairs at AWE, told Reuters. "Its actually a waste inventory that was prepared during the AWE management lead-in," he said of the "confidential report".
"But it doesnt really change the price of bread as far as were concerned because the quotes (in the magazine) appear to have been taken selectively and used out of context."
Hammond said a survey into land contamination had been under way for two years and, until it was complete, the exact amount of contamination would not be known.
"AWE was satisfied that there was no major underestimation of waste or contamination and is satisfied that its plans to deal with decommissioning waste and contamination will be effective," he said.
The company had used more drums than it estimated to hold waste buried on site because of the odd sizes of some of the contaminated material, he said.
"We will get better at that as we go through the programme and, as new equipment arrives, well be able to reduce the size of the individual waste particles in order that we can use our drums more effectively," he said.
"But having said that, it doesnt pose us any problem because weve got plenty of storage space."
BNFL, which this month announced sweeping changes to its board and senior management in the wake of a damning safety report, is under pressure to correct problems at its Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility.
Japan and Germany have put business with BNFL on hold after revelations that Sellafield staff falsified data on shipments of mixed oxide fuel, a combination of plutonium and uranium.
Switzerland and Sweden have also banned trade with BNFL, while Ireland and Denmark have called for Sellafields closure.
Story by John OCallaghan
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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