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UKAEA Dounreay today invited members of the public to have their say in the options for disposal of radioactive solvents and oils that are a legacy of fast reactor research and development at the Caithness site.
Launching the second stage of a pilot for public participation in the Dounreay Site Restoration Plan, site director Peter Welsh said it was a new opportunity for individuals and organisations to communicate directly with UKAEA about how the site is decommissioned and its environment restored.
"The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan is an opportunity not only to break new ground in the environmental restoration of one of the world's most complex nuclear facilities but also in how we involve stakeholders in the process," he said. "Public participation is a new development for Dounreay and one we want to learn from. I hope the stakeholders who want to help us deliver the site restoration plan will assist us not only to identify the most appropriate disposal method for the solvents and oils but also help develop and improve the process of public participation through experience."
The pilot project seeks to engage the public in developing the best practicable environmental option (BPEO) for the disposal of solvents and oils used in reactor and fuel reprocessing operations. They are currently stored safely in tanks at the site pending their disposal. From 18 options originally considered by UKAEA, three basic options emerged for dealing with the waste. These are alkaline hydrolysis, solidification and incineration, and each involves the construction of new facilities at Dounreay or transport to existing industrial waste facilities in England.
Preliminary scoring of each option against a range of environmental, technical, health and safety, and financial attributes, where each attribute is given a weighting proportionate to its importance, points to incineration as low-level waste in a new plant at Dounreay as the preferred method.
Two panels of local stakeholders were facilitated independently by Galson Sciences Ltd and reviewed UKAEA's preliminary findings. The panels' findings, together with detailed technical reports, are being published today along with a summary paper that is being distributed widely to stakeholders. The closing date for comments is 30 September 2003.
UKAEA project manager Alastair MacDonald said: "Our preliminary findings were that incineration of all solvents and oils at Dounreay using a wet abatement system scores highest because it does not involve transport, is technically proven and does not require handling of powdered radioactive waste.
"Although solidification to low-level waste is among the higher scoring options, it scores poorly against the technical risk attribute and would entail the transport of oils to an off-site treatment facility. Construction of an alkaline hydrolysis plant at Dounreay scores low because of cost and complexity, while alkaline hydrolysis at Sellafield scores low because of transport issues and because oils would need to be transported for treatment at another facility.
"It is not our intention to continue with the highest scoring option just because the arithmetic shows it is the best. We want to balance this with the views and comments of stakeholders before making a final recommendation.
"The first step to finding out the views of stakeholders was to ask Galson to facilitate two panels. One consisted of stakeholders from the local community, including members of the local liaison committee, Caithness Against Nuclear Dumping, and the local education authority, and the other was drawn from a cross-section of people who work at the site but who were not involved in this project.
"The members of the panels were able to vary the weightings used to score the options and in some cases the order of ranking changed. Both panels were generally supportive of the weightings used in the assessment, and agreed that the options process was robust, well thought out, that the impacts had been properly evaluated and the costs understood.
"The next step is to invite other stakeholders to participate. The panels' findings have been published today along with the summary paper, and I hope this will stimulate more responses from stakeholders who want to help us deliver the site restoration plan. The full BPEO document and a simple spreadsheet that can be used to see how the scoring varies as the weightings are modified can also be accessed via the UKAEA website."
Oils were used in a number of plants at Dounreay and became mildly contaminated with radioactivity. They amount to 70m3.
In February 2002, UKAEA Dounreay launched an ongoing initiative to encourage individuals and organisations to register as stakeholders in the site restoration plan. Anybody can register an interest via the UKAEA website at http://www.ukaea.org.uk/news/dsrp.htm.
Copies of the summary paper, reports of the stakeholder panels and the detailed technical study can be found at http://www.ukaea.org.uk/ dounreay/dsrpnews.htm. Copies of the summary paper are also available in local libraries, and have been issued to stakeholders who have registered an interest in the site restoration plan.