Reassurances needed on transport of nuclear waste from Dounreay

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By a Newsnet reporter

An SNP MSP is calling for Highland councillors and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to take their time and consider all workable solutions before moving nuclear waste from Dounreay Power Station.

The reactors at Dounreay were taken offline in 1994.  Since 2005, the site has been undergoing decommissioning.  The NDA now plans to transport nuclear materials, including 2 tonnes of plutonium and several tonnes of highly enriched uranium, from the former power station to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

The NDA plans will bring the Dounreay site to an interim care and surveillance state by 2036, at a total cost of £2.9 billion.  The site will not finally be deemed as safe enough for redevelopment until 2336.

Rob Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has highlighted the potential risks that exist in the proposed plan to move nuclear waste by rail to Sellafield and has called on the UK Government to show that the flasks which the materials are transported in are impenetrable in the event of any incidents.

The distance from Dounreay to Sellafield is about 416 miles (670km) by road.  Road transportation of nuclear materials over such a long distance is not considered feasible, but Highland Council said that moving nuclear material by rail has a proven safety record.

In a report to councillors, council officials said: “Travel by road over longer distances is unlikely to be supported unless significant investment in infrastructure was to be agreed.”

The radioactive materials would be moved by road from the reactor site to Georgemas Junction, the nearest available rail head where the loads can be transferred to special cargo trains for the journey south.  Their route will take them through some of the most densely populated parts of Scotland.

Mr Gibson, who is also convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, said:

“I am calling on Highland councillors and The NDA to keep calm heads on this issue; there must be no rash decisions when transporting plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

“Any incidents on our railways whilst moving this material could cause devastation on a level previously unknown here in Scotland. There must be no chance of this being allowed to happen.

“It is imperative that the people of Scotland are given assurances from the UK Government that the nuclear flasks which transport the waste to Cumbria are tested for five metre drops and can withstand accidents at 30 metres at speeds similar to that of a train.

“New technologies should be developed to make this process of decommissioning much safer and also not leave Dounreay as a high level nuclear dump.”