Nuclear fuel reprocessing at the UK's Sellafield nuclear plant should be suspended, according to a report by an American consultancy published today. Produced at the request of the UK Association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities and the Irish General Council of County Councils, the report says the risk of a serious radioactive release from high-level liquid waste stored at Sellafield is "much higher" than suggested by the UK's official Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII). The Institute of Resource and Security Studies (IRSS) report savagely attacks the NII, claiming that its decisions "lack a defensible, rational basis". A 1995 safety assessment carried out by the NII "badly underestimates the risk" of liquid waste storage, IRSS claims. It estimates that a total release to air of caesium-137 from just one of the 21 liquid waste storage tanks at the plant would, if uniformly deposited over neighbouring Ireland, lead to a 50% national increase in cancer fatalities. High-level liquid waste stored at Sellafield is gradually being vitrified, but the IRSS claims that the backlog will not be cleared until 2020, five years later than estimated by British Nuclear Fuels, which operates the Sellafield plant. The "cheapest and fastest way" to eliminate the liquid waste and reduce the risks it poses would be to suspend reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel, the IRSS says. In addition, it estimates that a suspension of reprocessing from the controversial "Thorp" plant "would have no significant effect on the generation of electricity other than making [it] slightly cheaper".
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