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Rosyth Waste to be Exported to Sweden

A plan to export radioactive waste from old nuclear submarines in Scotland to Sweden is coming under fire from local authorities worried about accidents and pollution. The naval dockyard at Rosyth in Fife has applied for permission to ship metal contaminated with radioactivity to a smelter near Nyköping in Sweden, run by the nuclear waste company Studsvik.

The plan is for the metal, from the decommissioning of seven defunct submarines laid up at Rosyth, to be melted, decontaminated and reused. The contaminated slag will then be sent back to Rosyth to be disposed of at the low-level radioactive waste dump at Drigg, near Sellafield in Cumbria.

The plan has been approved by the Government's green watchdog, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), and is now with Scottish ministers for a decision. But councils are angry that their concerns about the risks have been ignored.

"We find it inexplicable that Sepa should be minded to approve these shipments when options are available in the UK to manage UK waste," said Aberdeenshire councillor, Joanna Strathdee, the UK chairwoman of Kimo, a group of more than 110 local authorities from around the North and Baltic seas.

A plan to export radioactive waste from old nuclear submarines in Scotland to Sweden is coming under fire from local authorities worried about accidents and pollution. The naval dockyard at Rosyth in Fife has applied for permission to ship metal contaminated with radioactivity to a smelter near Nyköping in Sweden, run by the nuclear waste company Studsvik.

The plan is for the metal, from the decommissioning of seven defunct submarines laid up at Rosyth, to be melted, decontaminated and reused. The contaminated slag will then be sent back to Rosyth to be disposed of at the low-level radioactive waste dump at Drigg, near Sellafield in Cumbria.

The plan has been approved by the Government's green watchdog, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), and is now with Scottish ministers for a decision. But councils are angry that their concerns about the risks have been ignored.

"We find it inexplicable that Sepa should be minded to approve these shipments when options are available in the UK to manage UK waste," said Aberdeenshire councillor, Joanna Strathdee, the UK chairwoman of Kimo, a group of more than 110 local authorities from around the North and Baltic seas.

She continued: "Not only will these shipments increase the risk of an accident at sea, they will also increase emissions into the Baltic, one of the most radioactively polluted seas in the world."

Shetland Islands Council is planning this week to urge Ministers to refuse permission for the shipments. Councillor Rick Nickerson said transporting waste to Sweden and then to Drigg would not comply with the Scottish Government's plan to take responsibility for Scotland's waste. He pointed out that the previous Scottish Executive had stopped low-level radioactive waste being sent from Dounreay to Drigg.

"The council believes the application needs to be revisited and reviewed in the light of the new Scottish Government policy that radioactive waste created in Scotland should be managed and stored in Scotland in accordance with the proximity principle," he said.

The plan has also caused anxiety among some experts. "This is yet another scheme to disperse radioactivity throughout the environment rather than containing it," said Edinburgh-based nuclear consultant Pete Roche.

Rosyth Royal Dockyard Ltd, which is run by the British company Babcock International, is seeking approval to export up to 165 cubic metres a year of contaminated metal to Sweden. The metal has been contaminated with cobalt-60, carbon-14 and tritium by the reactors that used to power the submarines.

Sepa confirmed  that it was "minded" to allow the exports and was now awaiting a decision by Ministers on how to proceed. "Sepa is aware of the concerns expressed by Shetland Islands Council," said the agency's radioactive substances manager, Byron Tilly."Sepa is not responsible for safety of radioactive waste while in transit. We would expect this to be subject to relevant transport regulations concerning radioactive materials."

He said the need to reduce the transport of radioactive waste was outweighed by other factors: treatment in Sweden would greatly reduce the volume of the waste and it would enable the metal to be recycled. It would also ensure that the waste was dealt with now, rather than waiting for suitable facilities to become available in the UK. A new metal recycling plant being built by Studsvik at Workington in Cumbria will not be operational until 2009.

The new plant will be designed to process low-wlevel radioactive metal from decommissioning UK nuclear plants, but, according to Sepa, it will not incorporate the smelting process that is "appropriate" for the Rosyth wastes.