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UKAEA is inviting members of the public to participate in the choice of the Best Practicable Environmental Option for conditioning liquid wastes that are a legacy of reprocessing fast reactor fuel at Dounreay.

Fuel irradiated in the UK’s Prototype Fast Reactor was reprocessed at Dounreay until 1996 to separate the waste, or fission products, from the re-usable plutonium and uranium. The waste was extracted in the form of an acidic liquor, or raffinate, and approximately 200 m3 is stored safely and securely on the site today.

When it was first produced, the PFR raffinate did generate heat, which is why it was stored in tanks designed with cooling systems. It was classed as high level waste and if UKAEA had conditioned the raffinate at that point it would have been vitrified as blocks of glass.

The raffinate has been stored for at least 10 years and has decayed radiologically so that it does not require artificial cooling.  Accordingly, the waste is now classified as intermediate level waste.

A key objective of the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan is to immobilise the raffinate, converting it to a solid form that is safe for long term storage or disposal.

Work carried out so far shows a practicable and simpler alternative technology to vitrification is to immobilise the PFR raffinate in cement and store it as solid intermediate level waste, as is already the case for Materials Test Reactor (MTR) raffinate.

Before proceeding UKAEA wishes to set out the rationale behind this thinking and invite comments and views from stakeholders and members of the public on this and the other options being considered.

Dounreay director Norman Harrison said “The PFR raffinate amounts to 78.5% of the radioactivity of the total site waste inventory and its safe management is key to the safe decommissioning of the Dounreay site.

“I believe it is important that stakeholders are not only kept fully informed about this work but that they also have an opportunity to help us to make decisions that are publicly acceptable and value for money. The consultation we are announcing today is such an opportunity and also allows UKAEA to make transparent the rationale behind our thinking.”

Technical assessments have been undertaken for a range of options for managing the PFR raffinate. Two facilitated panels of stakeholders have met and reviewed the technical assessments. The opportunity to register views is being extended today to all stakeholders and members of the public.

The panel findings, which are being published today along with a summary paper for consultation and technical reports, conclude that cementing as intermediate-level waste appears to be the best option.

UKAEA project manager Dave Busby said: “The studies carried out show that immobilisation in cement is a real practicable solution for this waste. We know the technology is proven because we already immobilise MTR raffinate in cement in an existing plant that has operated successfully over a number of years. We believe this is the right way forward and we look forward to hearing other people’s views.”

The closing date for the consultation period is 23rd December 2004.

A summary consultation paper is being issued today to more than 800 stakeholders who have registered an interest in the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan. Anyone can register an interest via the UKAEA website at http://www.ukaea.org.uk/news/dsrp.htm . Information relating to the PFR raffinates project, including the consultation reports, can also be found here.

UKAEA has revised its long-range plans for decommissioning Dounreay. These now show a completion date of 2036 at an estimated cost of £2.7 billion - one billion pounds less than previous estimates