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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Health risk from Drigg waste site erosion ‘insignificant’ claim bosses

Health risks posed by erosion at a low-level nuclear dump in Cumbria are “insignificant”, bosses insist.

Drigg photo
Drigg LLWR

The Environment Agency (EA) has raised concerns about the low-level waste repository in Drigg because of its vulnerability to flooding.

It also warns that radioactive waste disposed of at the site will start leaking onto the shoreline in a few hundred to a few thousand years, due to erosion from storms and rising sea levels.

It comes after bosses at Drigg applied to the EA to dispose of an extra 800,000 cubic metres of waste there over the next century.

Campaigners claim the plan is “unsustainable, unethical and highly dangerous for future generations” due to the threat of rising sea levels.

Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment says more than 1,200 radioactive particles from Sellafield have been found on nearby beaches in recent years.

But the Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR), which runs the site, says any potential risks to the public posed by exposure to radiation thousands of years in the future meet strict levels of protection set out in regulatory guidance.

It adds that studies have shown that the earliest point erosion at Drigg would start is in a few hundred years’ time.

A spokeswoman said: “The repository will take at least a thousand years to erode once erosion has started.

“The 2011 Environmental Safety Case (ESC) demonstrates that even if the wastes are exposed by coastal erosion the impacts will be very low and consistent with regulatory guidance.

“This is because only waste containing low levels of radioactivity is disposed at the facility and after a few hundred years most of the radioactivity will have decayed away.”

The LLWR also insists it has limited the amount of radioactivity on some waste items to ensure there are no concentrations of radioactivity which may cause harm if waste is exposed.

And any risk of radiation that is exposed is “insignificant”, it adds.

The spokeswoman added: “The stringent regulatory requirements we have to meet ensure that even if people in the future forget about the repository and the wastes disposed there, the effects will be insignificant. Hence, our proposal is both sustainable and ethical.”

Meanwhile, the EA has insisted that Drigg “can continue to operate safely”.

It added that “existing sites such as this must operate in line with our high expectations along with our requirements and guidance which are periodically reviewed and updated”.

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