Tc-99 conference at Sellafield

<b>Utsikt til Sellafield</b> <BR> Britene vil ikke deponere Tc-99 på land, men slipper det heller ut i sjøen.
Foto: Erik Martiniussen/ Bellona

Publish date: March 11, 2003

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

Bellona Foundation has made arrangements for a joint conference with BNFL Ltd. and Norwegian NGO “Lofoten mot Sellafield” to discuss challenges met by continuous discharges of Technetium-99.

A conference to discuss the effects of technetium-99 involving BNFL, the Bellona Foundation and "Lofoten mot Sellafield" will take place near Sellafield, West Cumbria this April 22 – 23.

Norwegian minister to join
The Norwegian environmental minister Børge Brende has been largely involved in the campaign to stop the Tc-99 discharges from Sellafield. He has confirmed his participation in the conference. His British collage, Michael Meacher, is also invited but he has still not confirmed his participation.

The conference will hear views form a wide range of speakers from the Nordic countries and the UK. The conference will also hear local perspective views from the Sellafield trade union, the Local Liaison Committee and hopefully the local fisherman’s association.

Per-Kaare Holdal spokesperson for "Lofoten mot Sellafield" said, “We have spoken on behalf of the fishermen along the North Atlantic Coastline for many years. In Lofoten, in the north of Norway, we have lived of fisheries for thousands of years, and we hope that our children and future generations will be able to do the same. Our sea is still clean and it’s necessary to keep it this way, therefore we have to discuss these discharges from Sellafield.”

Commenting on the conference, BNFL’s Head of Environment, Health, Safety & Quality for the Sellafield site John Clarke said, “We welcome the opportunity to establish what will hopefully be a mutually beneficial science based dialogue with those Nordic groups that have shown an interest in technetium-99 discharges from Sellafield. I sincerely hope that this conference will facilitate a balanced and accurate understanding of the technetium-99 issue which can then form the basis of future dialogue and co-operation.”

Continuous discharges
Technetium–99 discharges have been routinely monitored in the North Atlantic. This conference will consider the health, environmental, economic, social and political implications of these discharges in the Nordic countries and the UK.

Tc-99 discharges from Sellafield have been going on since 1994, and were met with massive international criticism. Tc-99 spreads relatively easily into the environment, and discharges from Sellafield take approximately 2.5 years to reach the Norwegian coast. Samples prepared by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) in 2000 show traces of Tc-99 as far away as Svalbard. The concentrations ranged from 0,1 to 7 Bq/m3. The highest levels were observed in the North Sea.

Bellona has previously documented a maximum concentration level of 33 Bq/kg Tc-99 (wet weight) in lobster caught off the southern coast of Norway in 2001. Furthermore, in 1998, the NRPA reported a maximum concentration of Tc-99 in lobster at 42 Bq/kg (wet weight).

Abatement technologies
There exist several abatement technologies that can remove Tc-99 from discharges. Of these Tetraphenylphosphonium bromide (TPP) technology is the most developed for Tc-99 treatment. According to BNFL, all the laboratory scale development work has been completed for TPP. The next step to implement the technology would be a plant trail.

But the regulators are currently withholding permission for a TPP plant trail because of concerns about the solid waste produced and its lack of compatibility with NIREX requirements. Regulators are also concerned about TPP toxicity levels.

Before a new waste form can be produced the Regulators require that NIREX issue a Letter of Comfort (LoC) to confirm that it would be acceptable in their generic model of a future repository. NIREX are presently unable to issue such a LoC.

In December last year two British ministers, Margaret Becket and Michale Meacher, where asking interested parties to consider whether it would be possible to impose a moratorium on the discharges of technetium-99 from the Sellafield site pending the introduction of chemical abatement technology using TPP.

Bellona has responded to this, and argues that a moratorium has to be introduced at once. But the British Environmental Agency has a different opinion. In their response to the ministers, EA have written: “..a moratorium on MAC treatment pending future TPP investigations does not seem to us to be a constructive way forward that would lead to a viable means of treating MAC in store to remove Tc-99…”.