Challenge Blair on Sellafield-discharges

Statsminister Kjell Magne Bondevik ble lovet Land-deponering av Tc-99 sist gang han møtte Tony Blair.
Foto: SmK

Publish date: May 14, 2003

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

Prime Minister of Norway, Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Environmental Minister Mr Børge Brende are both travelling to London tomorrow to discuss Sellafield-discharges with their British counterparts. In their suitcase the two Ministers brings a Bellona proposal, which can stop the controversial discharges of radioactive Technetium-99.

The Bellona Environmental Foundation can now document that there is no regulatory or practical reasons not to implement a one year moratorium on radioactive Technetium-99 discharges form British reprocessing plant Sellafield.

Thus the British authorities have argued that they are not able to stop the discharges while they are researching different kinds of abatement technologies.

Angry minister
Tomorrow Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik will have a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. One of the subjects he will bring up during the discussions will be the continuous discharge of Tc-99 form Sellafield. Later on, the same day, Norwegian Environment Minister Mr Brende will challenge his British counterpart Mr Michael Meacher on the new Bellona-proposal.

In December the UK Government announced it would consider putting a moratorium on all the Tc-99 discharges from Sellafield. But more than three months later the British Environment Agency has apparently still not received any direction to explore the possibility of a moratorium. In March this year yet another batch of Tc-99 was discharged into the Irish Sea from backlogs of historic radioactive waste.

Mr Brende, is getting increasingly impatient. In April, Mr Brende once again wrote a letter to his British counterpart, regarding the moratorium. Mr Brende wrote: “Future delay of the process to implement a moratorium could easily leave the impression that the UK strategy is simply to postpone the final decision as long as possible, while the remaining volume of Tc-99 is steadily discharged to sea”. In the same letter Mr Brende asked for yet another meeting with Mr Meacher. The meeting will be in London tomorrow at 3 pm.

d6012d280048797faf15926026a16e8f.jpeg Photo: Foto: Erik Martiniussen/ Bellona

– Time is running out
Mr Brende and Mr Meacher have had several talks about the continuous discharges of Tc-99. So far the tone between the two ministers has been cordial. Now Mr Brende has lost his confidence. Commenting on the subject today, Mr Brende told the Norwegian Newspaper Bergens Tidende: “We are soon coming to a point where the discussion and dialogue don’t have any more value.”

The Tc-99 discharges for Sellafield arise from some decrepit tanks situated at the Sellafield site (B211). Due to safety concerns the old tanks are only licensed until 2006/07. This has been used as an argument for not stopping the discharges as the authorities investigate alternative methods to clean out the Tc-99.

Today, there is between 210 and 230 TBq of Tc-99 left in the tanks. BNFL has a licence to discharge 90 TBq each year. This means it will take 30 months to empty the tanks. The concession to Sellafield’s B211 is for at least 42 moths, which means there is enough time to implement a one-year moratorium awaiting the development of abatement technologies. The proposal was worked out during the Bellona, BNFL and “Loftoen against Sellafield” conference in April.

One potential process to remove some of the Tc-99 from MAC when it is treated is the addition of the chemical Tetraphenylphosphonium bromide (TPP). BNFL has not obtained permission from UK regulators due to a number of problems involving waste management and the toxic potential of TPP in the marine environment. One argument has been that Tc-99 may leak out of a future repository in 50,000 years.

In commenting on this, Ingar Amundsen, advisor at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, said earlier this month to Bellona Web: “the two separate criteria for land and sea disposal is a paradox because of the strict regulations for land storage compared to discharges to sea. The radioactive dose from Tc-99 to critical groups after 50,000 years is still lower than the current dose arising from discharges to sea.”