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Global danger in transporting nuclear wastes by plane

Airplane dangerWhether it is transported by sea, or even by air, there is real concern over the potential for an accident or a malicious attack that would put the public at risk.

How many nuclear weapons could be made if such material got into the wrong hands? Why risk global nuclear security by transporting this waste across the Atlantic by air?

We call for this deal to be cancelled forthwith. The waste should be stored on-site at Dounreay and not moved over 6,000 miles away.

UK-US air transports of high enriched uranium: global security at risk for commercial gain, Ecologist Ernie Galsworthy / NFLA 3rd May 2016 Planned air transports of high-enriched uranium from Dounreay in Scotland to the US state of Tennessee would risk of accident or a terrorist seizure of weapon-usable nuclear material.  The motive for the transport appears to be purely commercial – and would thus put the public at needless risk for the sake of a cut-price nuclear waste / fuel deal between US and UK authorities.

There has been a recent flurry of media reports suggesting that a proposed transport of radioactive materials from the Caithness Dounreay site to the United States could be sent by plane.

The reports note the surprise upgrade of Wick John O’Groats Airport through an £8 million cash injection from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

This follows from the Global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC at which, on 31st March, the US and UK Government announced a deal under which 700kg of un-irradiated Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) – categorised by the NDA as ‘exotic fuels’ and safely stored at Dounreay – would be transported to the United States in exchange for US nuclear material being sent to Europe for conversion into medical isotopes for diagnosing cancer.

The deal was trumpeted as a ‘win-win’ for both parties – the United States has more capacity to store and process the HEU, while France and Belgium get ‘beneficial’ nuclear materials that will help save lives in the fight against cancer. What is not to like in such a deal?

But digging a little deeper makes the deal look like a purely commercial decision suiting the UK, US and European nuclear industries – and one that creates a real and serious security risk.

The NDA-owned HEU at Dounreay, which comprises around a tonne of radioactive material, is made up of oxide powders, pellets and some uranium metal and alloys with varying levels of weapons enrichment that present difficulties for long-term disposability. Whether it is transported by sea, or even by air, there is real concern over the potential for an accident or a malicious attack that would put the public at risk.

How many nuclear weapons could be made if such material got into the wrong hands? Why risk global nuclear security by transporting this waste across the Atlantic by air? Why is the nuclear industry getting involved in upgrading airports? And what makes this particular transport of such importance?

Strong local opposition to rail shipments

Previously, despite local opposition, NDA had been sending these materials out by rail as part of a long series of transports moving it from Dounreay to Sellafield for long-term management and storage.

These transports have been subject to considerable criticism from local pressure groups like Highland Against Nuclear Transports (HANT) group and Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), as well as Scottish and English members of Nuclear-Free Local Authorities (NFLA)…….

All this nuclear risk for a grubby commercial deal?

It now appears that the NDA plan is to transport the HEU to the US private sector facility Nuclear Fuel Services at Erwin in Tennessee in what NFLA believe should be seen as a commercial deal between the UK and US.

The NFS facility is where Russian uranium, from HEU, was made into fuel for commercial reactors operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (owned by the federal government). It is unknown if the Dounreay material would end up going to TVA or other site reactors for use……

From the US perspective this is simply a commercial deal aimed at supplying nuclear power fuel. On the UK end, it appears to be little more than a nuclear waste-dumping deal. Despite the politically inspired rhetoric from both governments, it remains hard to see the nuclear proliferation benefits of taking safely stored and managed HEU, and transporting it by air from one nuclear weapon state to another.

The answers we need – and are not getting

There are a number of other important specific questions about this deal which also need answers, including:……

NFLA is writing to the NDA and the UK Government to clarify such matters, and it is encouraging American environmental NGOs to do the same of the US authorities.

The waste should not be moved!

We firmly believe the radioactive waste at Dounreay should rather be stored on-site and not be subject to such excessive levels of high-risk transportation.

These transports will continue to be undertaken in a secretive manner, with local authority emergency planning units unlikely to be informed, but whose units would almost certainly have to be involved in the event of a serious accident or incident. And all this has been done without an iota of public consultation.

We call for this deal to be cancelled forthwith. The waste should be stored on-site at Dounreay and not moved over 6,000 miles away. These cosy relations between nuclear weapon states need to be robustly challenged. It is simply not right to dump our radioactive waste legacy on to another country whilst suggesting we are also against the proliferation of such nuclear materials.

The US and UK governments should not be saying we are preventing nuclear terrorism on one side, while potentially opening nuclear material up to such groups by transporting it thousands of miles instead. It is hypocritical to say the least. And in terms of openness and transparency and full public consultation, this deal has been anything but, using a ‘smokescreen’ of cancer-saving materials going the other way to justify the deal.

NFLA will work with other relevant UK and US groups to publicise these concerns –Ecologist readers and the wider public need to know what is really going on.

 


 

Councillor Ernie Galsworthy is the UK and Ireland Nuclear-Free Local Authorities(NFLA) Steering Committee Chair. The NFLA would like to acknowledge with thanks input from Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch, Martin Forewood of CORE Cumbria and Tor Justad of HANT for their contributions to this article.  http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987643/ukus_air_transports_of_high_enriched_uranium_global_security_at_risk_for_commercial_gain.html

 

 

May 6, 2016 - Posted by | safety, UK, USA

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