German utilities and regional governments face the cost of transporting huge volumes of intermediate level nuclear waste returning from the UK if reprocessing contracts with British Nuclear Fuels go ahead.
The cost of transportation could eclipse the £700m value of the contracts.
The problem will arise if Germany has to take back tens of thousands of cubic metres of intermediate level waste (ILW) produced by the reprocessing. To resolve this problem, BNFL had hoped it would instead be able to return slightly excess amounts of the far less bulky high-level waste generated by reprocessing.
But conditional government approval for this policy of ‘substitution’ was contingent on a deep underground repository for ILW being available in the UK by 2020. The failure of the Nirex programme means this will not happen.
Industry Minister John Battle confirmed in a Parliamentary answer last week that present Government policy was that ‘all waste arising from reprocessing, and all unprocessed German spent fuel at Sellafield will be returned’.
BNFL and its customers still argue that substitution should be allowed, and that the 2020 stipulation will be dropped.
The German government last week backtracked further on its threat to cancel the contracts, saying they would continue until at least 2005.
In 1997, a shipment of four containers of high-level waste halfway across Germany to a disposal site at Gorleben, near Hamburg, required an escort of 30,000 police.