New Sellafield discharge limits

30 November 1998

The UK Environment Agency has issued its proposed variations to BNFL’s authorisations to discharge liquid and gaseous radioactive waste from Sellafield. It has also said that plutonium commissioning and full operation of the mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant at Sellafield is justified. Both recommendations have been passed on to environment and agriculture ministers for final approval.

The variations on discharge limits will result in a “significant overall reduction” in discharges of technetium-99 and four other radionuclides, as well as imposing strict conditions on developing and applying new abatement techniques, requiring BNFL to clean up more of the stored liquid waste on site and introducing extra regulatory control for gaseous discharges of carbon-14, ruthenium-106 and iodine-129.

The Agency’s decision to give the go ahead for the MOX fabrication plant was based entirely on environmental and technical issues and “does not involve it taking any view on the wider issues of plutonium management strategy”. In the context of the MOX plant decision, the agency expressed concern that BNFL made the application to operate the plant after it had been built and the capital cost had been incurred. Under the Radioactive Substances Act (RSA) 1993, the Agency has no powers to require an application be submitted before a plant is constructed, it could not, therefore, consider the economic case in its entirety. The Agency also stated that provisions for the release of information to the public under the RSA are inadequate, making it reliant on the company’s cooperation. It argues both provisions should be changed to meet the criteria set out in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which covers other industry sectors.

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