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Radioactive Waste: Waste Management

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from which countries (a) radioactive waste and (b) spent fuel has been received but not yet returned; and what the (i) radioactivity level and (ii) quantity held is in each case. (288420)

[holding answer 21 July 2009]: The UK does not allow the import of higher activity radioactive waste, but overseas used nuclear fuel has been received, stored and reprocessed under contract at Sellafield and Dounreay.

All new overseas reprocessing contracts signed since 1976 have contained an option for the radioactive waste arising from such reprocessing to be returned to its country of origin. In 1986 Government took the decision that this option should be exercised.


During this time spent fuel has been received at Sellafield for reprocessing from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden. To date, waste has been returned to Sweden as a result of reprocessing.

High Level Waste will be returned in a solid glass (vitrified) form and preparations are currently under way to make the return of vitrified High Level Waste to overseas customers with reprocessing contracts at Sellafield. Due to commercial constraints we are unable to detail the radioactivity level and quantity held for each customer but the total amount of overseas spent fuel to be reprocessed under new reprocessing contracts signed since 1976 is around 4,500 tonnes.


Reprocessing no longer takes place at Dounreay. Countries from which spent fuel has been received but not yet returned:


Kg HM (kilograms heavy metal)





Denmark (of Italian origin)






The Netherlands




1 Australian spent fuel has already been reprocessed and 53 drums of cemented raffinate waste is now held on their behalf. Due to an oversight, Australia was not included in a previous answer given on 1 February 2006, Official Report, column 552W

2 Material received in Dounreay from Georgia will remain in the UK for international security reasons.

3 Spanish spent fuel has already been reprocessed and the quantity of waste arising was so small (less than one thousandth of a drum of cemented raffinate waste) that it was agreed to retain in the UK. A further batch of spent fuel has also been received from Spain but was sent on, still in the form of spent fuel, to a third overseas party.

UK spent fuel has also been permanently exchanged for a similar amount of French spent fuel under a research and development programme.

It is not possible to give current radioactivity levels for the material in the table above as the levels on receipt would be considerably different from those today. To attempt to calculate notional radioactivity levels from the above weights could give an erroneous result.

Waste will be returned to the countries of origin as required by the fuel reprocessing contracts.