BNFL has described the OSPAR treaty on sea pollution agreed by EU environment ministers in Sintra, Portugal, on 23 July as posing “demanding challenges over the next 20 years”. However the company does not consider the targets impossible and rejects the claim that the agreement means the UK’s Magnox reactors will have to close.
The agreement commits all parties to reduce radioactive emissions to the sea to “near zero”, taking account of technical feasibility. The “zero option” was proposed by the French environment minister Dominique Voynet.
“Zero discharges are not technically possible from Sellafield”, says a BNFL statement, “and we welcome the recognition in the OSPAR statement that technical feasibility and radiological impact should be taken into account.” Central to achieving zero discharges is the removal of the fission product technetium-99 from the waste stream of the Enhanced Actinide Removal Plant (EARP) which currently removes 99% of radioactivity, including plutonium, caesium and americium, from reprocessed Magnox waste. However currently there is no method of removing the technetium.
The OSPAR agreement requires BNFL to have a technically feasible plan for removing the technetium by 2000. BNFL are confident it can achieve this and does not accept the Greenpeace argument that the agreement means the Magnox stations will have to close.
“We will continue to work with Government and our regulator to ensure that we achieve the demanding targets for reductions over the next 20 years,” says BNFL. “We are confident that we can meet these challenges whilst at the same time continuing to operate the Magnox stations for as long as it is safe and economically attractive to do so.” One possible method involves the addition of an organic precipitant within the EARP which would result in a solid organic waste containing the technetium.