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Nuclear Waste

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, since the continuous action of water on glassified nuclear waste over a long period of time could lead to the leaking of radioactive elements, and since metal containers of the glassified waste are not totally resistant to sea water over the timescale envisaged, whether the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority has now abandoned its intentions of promoting the disposal of radioactive waste on the deep ocean bed.

As part of their comprehensive research programme on radioactive waste management the Government are investigating three disposal options for vitrified high level waste; in geological formations on land, on the bed of the deep ocean or under the ocean bed. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority—UKAEA—is one of the Government's research contractors.At this stage there is no commitment to any option, and at least 10 years' research will be required before their merits can be compared. The Harvest vitrification process produces a material which is highly resistant to leaching by water. The extent to which radionuclides might be released from the glass over a long period of time and the potential effect on man and the environment are an important part of the research.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what preliminary and more advanced tests have been carried out to ensure the absolute safety of the dumping of nuclear waste underground, as is now being proposed for several dispersed rural areas in the United Kingdom, including central Wales.

No proposal has been made to dispose of nuclear waste underground anywhere in the United Kingdom.The Government are co-ordinating and managing a comprehensive research programme to assess the feasibility of possible options for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. One of these is underground disposal, for which it will be necessary to undertake exploratory drillings to examine fully the properties and characteristics of different geological formations. Fifteen areas have been provisionally identified as suitable for investigation. During the next few weeks scientists from the Institute of Geological Sciences will carry out surface reconnaissance within four of these areas to identify sites which appear to be suitable for drilling exploratory boreholes. The areas are Central and North-west Somerset, South-East Hereford and Worcester, and North Gloucestershire; North Leicester and South Nottinghamshire; and South Gwynedd and North-west Powys. Other areas will be announced in due course.