Nuke waste and high radiation

Found this in my inbox yesterday

High radiation risk from waste dump

from Sunday Herald, 11 June 2006

A leaking nuclear waste dump could expose future generations to radiation levels up to 1,000 times higher than safety targets, according to the government's radioactive waste agency, Nirex.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Herald reveal that people hundreds of thousands of years in the future face an increased risk of cancer because their drinking water could be contaminated by radioactive waste buried today.

As well as posing an acute ethical dilemma, the revelation may cause immediate political difficulties for the First Minister, Jack McConnell. He is scheduled to make his first official visit to a nuclear power station at Torness in East Lothian tomorrow.

Although the visit has not been publicised by the Scottish Executive, it has already attracted criticism because it comes amidst fierce arguments over the future of nuclear power. The Executive's current policy is not to support further nuclear development "while waste management issues remain unresolved".

The high radiation doses that Nirex says could result from a waste repository deep underground in the UK have shocked experts and campaigners. And they have prompted the government's Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to reassess the risks.

In April CoRWM published its draft recommendation in favour of deep disposal, but now it is re-examining the potential health effects of future leaks. "I've got doubts about what future generations will find acceptable," said Pete Wilkinson, a member of CoRWM.

"There are still outstanding issues that we've got to resolve and one of them is the radiation impact of a natural or catastrophic failure of a repository," he added. CoRWM's final report, which won't recommend any specific sites for dumps, is due next month.

Nirex provided its estimates of future radiation doses in response to detailed questions from CoRWM. Its responses were released to the Sunday Herald on request, and are now available on the Nirex website.

Nirex puts the peak radiation dose from waste escaping from a deep repository within the next million years at ten milliSieverts a year. That is ten times higher than the international safety limit for members of the public.

Crucially, it is between 500 and 1000 times above the target doses recommended by regulatory agencies in Britain, Sweden and Japan. This makes it a "show stopper" for the whole idea of deep disposal, according to Max Wallis, a campaigner with the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance.

"It's fundamental that we safeguard our environment for our grandchildren and the planet for generations into the distant future," he said. "A nuclear dump that could expose future residents to radiation levels far higher than are legal today is quite out of order."

If it can happen in the UK, it can happen here. No nukes is good nukes.


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