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Sellafield 'ground-breaking' nuclear waste research

Sellafield 'ground-breaking' nuclear waste research Credit: PA

Scientists studying nuclear waste at Sellafield say new research could mean quicker and cheaper decommissioning.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for cleaning up the country's nuclear waste, has been criticised for soaring costs and slipping deadlines.

Scientists say their discovery will mean a "radically simplified approach" to the packaging and disposal of intermediate level waste.

The research looked at the chemical behaviours of waste stored in the Magnox Swarf storage Silo. It is one of the UK’s most hazardous buildings and has been prioritised for clean-up by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Previously, scientists thought a 22-step mechanical treatment and encapsulation process was necessary to manage and dispose of the waste stored in silos constructed over fifty years ago.

But the study’s findings suggest the old method could be replaced with an alternative three-step solution which stores the "raw" waste with concrete grout inside a shielded container.

Dr Adrian Simper, the NDA’s Strategy and Technology Director, said:

To be able to deliver a technical solution to historic intermediate level waste at Sellafield, that not only offers a safe and secure route but also opens up the possibility of a quicker and cheaper alternative to current technology, is a genuinely exciting development.”

– Dr Adrian Simper

The four-year study was led by the NDA, Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory, with academics from the universities of Bristol, Leeds and London South Bank.

Their findings are being met with caution by Cumbrian environmental campaigners.

The Green Party's Jill Perry told ITV Border it makes no sense for the Government to remain "wedded" to the nuclear industry:

"This is one facility among many at Sellafield that house radioactive waste in various states of decay. It remains a very long-term, expensive and dangerous business without any guarantees of safety over the lengths of time necessary."

– Jill Perry, Secretary Allerdale and Copeland Green Party