UK pledges 85% cut in radioactive discharges

Government claims proposed reductions will achieve 2020 commitment under Ospar agreement

UK environment minister Michael Meacher yesterday outlined plans to cut discharges of radiation to the marine environment 85% by 2020. The proposals would achieve the UK's commitment under a 1998 international agreement to add "virtually nothing" to historic levels of radioactivity in the sea by 2020, he claimed.

Release of the proposal comes just days before government officials from countries party to the 1998 "Sintra" agreement gather in Denmark for the annual meeting of the Ospar commission, an international body regulating the environment of the north-east Atlantic region. The UK is the first Ospar party to indicate how it plans to meet the Sintra target on radioactive discharges, Mr Meacher said.

Denmark and Ireland are both planning to put forward draft decisions at the Ospar meeting calling for an immediate end to nuclear reprocessing, the main cause of industrial discharges of radioactive substances (ENDS Daily 28 March) (ENDS Daily 24 March). It is unlikely that the UK's new proposals will persuade either country to back off.

A Danish government official told ENDS Daily the proposals were at least "a step in the right direction," but an Irish spokesperson said the plan "doesn't go far enough". He reiterated the government's determination to see Sellafield and all nuclear reprocessing "ended as quickly as possible".

Under the UK proposals, which are open to public consultation until September, an 85% cut in overall discharges will be achieved from six sectors. Nuclear reprocessing is the largest contributor, for which discharges are set to fall by over 70% to "less than" 30 terabecquerels (TBq) per year. The biggest contribution to the cut is the anticipated end to reprocessing of fuel from Britain's old Magnox power stations by 2012, by when most of them will be closed (ENDS Daily 24 May).

All other discharges are tiny by comparison. The proposed cuts from the various sectors are: uranium enrichment and fuel production by over 99% to less than 1 TBq, nuclear energy production by around 60% to less than 2 TBq, research by around 72% to 1 TBq for beta/gamma discharges and 0.01 TBq for alpha discharges, and defence to zero by 2010.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 20 79 44 30 00. See also a press release and the full report.

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