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Uranium Plant, Capenhurst

Volume 979: debated on Monday 25 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if URENCO is satisfied with the control of radioactive emissions from Capenhurst.

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are jointly responsible for authorising the discharge of radioactive wastes from Capenhurst. They are both satisfied that British Nuclear Fuels Limited operates the plant so that the discharges are within the terms of its authorisations.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether the waste which flows out at Meols is radioactive; what it consists of; how long is the waste outflow pipe; how far the tide takes the waste; how far the tide brings in the waste; what is the practice employed for the discharge of waste; and whether waste is pumped out when the tanks are full, irrespective of the state of the tide.

British Nuclear Fuels Limited is authorised jointly by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under section 6 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 to dispose of low-level liquid radioactive waste via the North Wirral outfall at Meols. The waste which arises from the production of enriched uranium at the Capenhurst works, is taken by tanker to Meols about once a week and discharged over a period of one hour via a pipeline extending three miles out to sea.The contents of the tanker, amounting to some 1,500 gallons, are diluted into a continuous flow of domestic sewage of some three million gallons per day. Disposal is limited by the authorisation to a maximum of 20 kilograms of uranium in any one calendar month and a maximum of 1 curie of technetium and 10 millicuries of all other radionuclides in any period of three consecutive calendar months.Before the authorisation was granted, the dilution and dispersal characteristics of the area were fully considered and the possible hazard to the public and the environment assessed against internationally agreed criteria. BNFL is required under the terms of the authorisation to monitor discharges, which began in August 1978. It also carries out a programme of environmental monitoring.Separate environmental monitoring is also carried out by the fisheries radiobiological laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The results show that the levels of activity arising from the discharges constitute no public radiation hazard and represent an insignificant fraction of the natural background radiation level to which the public is continuously exposed.