British Nuclear Fuels is hoping to play a leading role in the development of a controversial £4bn repository for international nuclear waste in western Australia.
BNFL has invested £5m in preliminary studies for the scheme, although neither the Australian government or public knew of the plan until an internal information video was leaked in December.
Studies are being carried out by Pangea Resources, a company set up by the Enterra engineering group of Canada in 1997 and Nagra, a co-operative of Swiss nuclear power generators.
BNFL said the project was at ‘a very exploratory stage’ but confirmed that it hoped to provide design and engineering services. UK nuclear waste would not be involved.
The new repository would resolve key technical and political questions over the disposal of 250,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste that the world is expected to have generated by 2015. Western Australia not only offers a large region of homogenous and stable geology, but also political stability with a developed economy and sound nuclear credentials.
The aim is for a private company to develop the facility and charge waste producers for its use. The Australian government may receive more than £30bn via royalties and taxation.
The project would involve the construction of tunnels 500m below the surface to hold about 75,000 tonnes of waste, connected by a railway line to a dedicated port several hundred kilometres away. The repository would cost an estimated £2.25bn to build and a further £1.75bn to operate over 40 years. The scheme would also require the manufacture of 70 ships and 3,000 steel flasks to transport the waste.
* A National Radiological Protection Board study which examined the records of 125,000 UK radiation workers has found borderline evidence that higher doses within the relatively low limits allowed in the British nuclear industry increase the chance of developing leukemia.