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     Scottish CND      Magazine

Dounreay Today

Mike Townsley

Calls for a public inquiry into an application for revised radioactive discharge authorisations at Dounreay have been rejected by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, instead he has asked the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to hold a further round of public consultation into its proposed authorisations for the site.

While the original application was made in 1993, SEPA only took over from HM Industrial Pollution Inspectorate (HMIPI) in April last year, and has been grappling with Dounreay's application ever since.

While the proposed authorisations would still allow significant increases in radioactive discharges from Dounreay, SEPA has shown more willingness than its predecessor to challenge the industry's worst excesses.

In particular SEPA concluded that continued reprocessing of foreign highly enriched uranium spent fuel from research reactors would only be justified if the resultant waste was returned as soon as possible and not later than ten years after reprocessing. Current practice allows waste to be stored at Dounreay for 25 years after reprocessing. The clause was designed to prevent overseas customers from using Dounreay as a dump site for their unwanted radioactive waste.

The move angered both the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTi). The NII, in a strongly worded letter to SEPA, called for the clause to be removed, arguing that storage of nuclear waste on nuclear sites was its responsibility. The DTi is known to have been lobbying the Scottish Secretary to remove the clause as it might set a dangerous precedent which could be applied to Sellafield and the THORP plant.

The new round of consultation, if approved by the SEPA main board at the beginning of September, will allow the NII and the DTi to make formal objections to SEPA. It is expected that a further round of consultation will take place in a couple of months time.

Meanwhile, the decision will also allow a contract for the reprocessing of around 1,000 spent highly enriched fuel elements to be signed under existing authorisations which allow the waste to remain in Scotland for 25 years. A decision on whether or not to have the fuel reprocessed is imminent. Had the Scottish Secretary backed SEPA's stance, it is widely believed that Australia would not have signed a reprocessing contract. Indeed the UK AEA which operates the site has complained that: "This could make some of our customers think twice about using us."

With the ongoing discovery of radioactive particles in and around the Dounreay site, and the continuing controversy over what should be done with the sites "waste shaft", the only way to adequately tackle ongoing activities is through a full public inquiry. Such a move was backed by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Scotland and 5 of the 6 Local Authorities on the list of statutory consultees.

* Letters of protest can be directed to:
Rt Hon. Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, Scottish Office, St Andrew's House, Regent Road, Edinburgh, EH1 3DG. Fax: 0131 244 2683

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     Scottish CND      Magazine