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Drigg: Processing Of Nuclear Waste

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 February 1999

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2.52 p.m.

What is the effect of the decision that the nuclear processing plant at Drigg cannot accept waste from nuclear power plants because it has exceeded the level of carbon 14 allowed for the next 25 years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, tests have revealed that waste resins sent to Drigg from Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited may have contained carbon 14. If confirmed, Drigg may have received more carbon 14 than is permitted in its disposal authorisations. More definite information is not expected to be available before mid-March. In the meantime Drigg has ceased to accept the wastes in question but will otherwise operate normally. No site worker or member of the public has received any additional radiation dose.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but what is happening to the nuclear waste which is not being accepted at Drigg? If it proves, as is my information, that the amount of carbon 14 is grossly excessive, what will happen from the middle of March when the report is received?

My Lords, we do not at this moment know what the situation is at Drigg. However, it is believed that this matter will not have a significant effect on operations. In the meantime the resins are not being sent to Drigg. I have no reason to believe that the consignor will be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the future. However, I understand that should the consignor be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the longer term, he will be able to make arrangements to store them on site until a suitable disposal facility becomes available.

My Lords, am I correct in thinking that a Bill to bring nuclear energy plants under a greater degree of control is on its way? If that is the case, will that Bill, when it becomes an Act, be a means of dealing with this kind of problem?

My Lords, I am not aware of any such Bill. I do not think there is a necessity to take any action of that nature on this issue. Obviously action is being taken to examine how this situation occurred and the fact that it was not spotted as early as it should have been. However, I do not think that that requires legislation.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that apart from this carbon 14 issue, the capacity of Drigg, radiologically speaking, will be full, even if the volume is not full, within the next 50 years? Will that require a further disposal facility to be started for low level waste?

My Lords, I do not believe that there is a time horizon constraint of that kind with regard to the operations at Drigg taking this kind of fuel.