Fred The Golf Ball  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Guardian has a report on cleaning up the waste from British nuclear reactors - Robots scour sea for atomic waste - "Submarines searching for radioactive material dumped off the Scottish coast in the 1980s.

Apparently someone inadvertently dumped some fuel rod waste into the ocean. How careless of them.

Robot submarines are to be used to sweep particles of plutonium and other radioactive materials from the seabed near one of Britain's biggest nuclear plants in one of the most delicate clean-up operations ever in this country.

Each submersible will be fitted with a Geiger counter and will crisscross the sea floor to pinpoint every deadly speck close to Dounreay on Scotland's north coast before lifting each particle and returning it to land for safe storage.

Two kilometres of beach outside the Dounreay nuclear plant have been closed since 1983, and fishing banned, when it was found old fuel rod fragments were being accidentally pumped into the sea. The cause was traced and corrected but particles - including plutonium specks, each capable of killing a person if swallowed - are still being washed on to this bleakly beautiful stretch of sand and cliff on mainland Britain's northern edge.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), owners of Dounreay, was eventually fined £140,000 at Wick Sheriff Court last year for 'very grave errors' that led to the beach's contamination. The authority's safety director, Dr John Crofts, admitted the release represented 'an unacceptable legacy.'

The seabed clean-up, which will take years to complete, is only one part of the major operation to close down Dounreay. For 40 years, test reactors - part of Britain's fast breeder reactor construction programme - operated there but the technology turned out to be messy. Fast breeders use liquid metal coolants and their contaminated remnants still await removal. 'At the time, engineers were only interested in building reactors. No one thought how we might dismantle them,' said Colin Punler, Dounreay's communication manager. ...

Although the UKAEA kept no precise accounts for building and running Dounreay, it is known to have cost several billion pounds. Now a further £2.5 billion will be spent returning the site to its pre-nuclear condition, leaving only a vault, covered with grass, to hold low-level nuclear waste while high-level waste will probably be shipped to a central UK nuclear store yet to be approved. 'An immense amount of money was spent here,' admitted Steve Beckitt, a senior Dounreay project manager. ...

Fast-breeder reactors were conceived in the Fifties when uranium - the nuclear industry's raw material - was scarce. At the same time, the US was being uncooperative in sharing nuclear expertise, despite Britain's role in developing the atom bomb. So UK nuclear chiefs set up a fast breeder programme to ensure fuel independence and stationed it in remote Caithness - because they feared their first test reactor might explode. They even encased it in a giant sphere of steel, known as Fred the Golf Ball - Fred standing for Fast Reactor Experiment in Dounreay - to contain any blast.

This 60-metre metal ball still dominates the site and might even be retained as a key landmark or possibly a visitor centre, according to Scottish Heritage. 'Unfortunately, the sphere still contains about 50 tonnes of highly radioactive liquid metal coolant,' said Simon Middlemas, Dounreay's site director. 'That will take an awful lot of cleaning before people can walk inside.' ...

Today, Dounreay bristles with armed police. The storage of vast amounts of uranium and plutonium, extracted from old fuel elements, has raised fears of attacks by terrorists. Security checks and vehicle inspections are routine - along with the constant clip-clop sound of Dounreay's fissile warning system. 'It's maddening but it tells you things are safe,' said Punler. 'If it speeds up, you know something is wrong and you run.' ..

Now local leaders fear a return to days when farming and fishing were the main occupations, although there are plans to use Dounreay's engineering expertise to create a new energy industry: tidal power. 'The waters here have some of the world's fastest currents and would make an ideal tidal power centre,' said Middlemas. 'We want to redirect our talent to devices like these.' Thus Dounreay, home of Britain's most advanced nuclear site, could find itself being turned into a centre for renewable energy research - an irony not lost on staff or locals.

The Independent reports that further south, in Wales, the country plans to get all its energy from renewables by 2020 - "Welsh energy drive turns the valleys green again".
Wind turbines are replacing pitheads in providing Wales with power, as its valleys turn green again. With energy prices scaling record heights, the principality is preparing to lead Britain out of the carbon age.

Wales will this week become the first country in the world formally to report on the growth of its "ecological footprint" – the measure of its impact on the planet's resources.

It already leads the rest of the UK in trying to reduce it by, for example, getting all its electricity from renewable sources.

On Tuesday, Jane Davidson, the environment minister for the Welsh Assembly Government, will publish a report showing that the country's footprint grew by 1.5 per cent each year between 1990 and 2003, the last year for which calculations could be made.

By the end of that period, its resource consumption stood at 5.19 hectares (12.8 acres) per person: the amount of land needed to provide the resources to sustain each of its people. The report says this is smaller than for Scotland or England's regions, but that if all the world's population lived at that level they would require nearly three planets the size of Earth.

The minister says Wales has policies to stop the footprint growing by 2020, and believes new ones could start to shrink it. This may be less ambitious than plans by four countries – Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Costa Rica – to go entirely carbon neutral, but is much more so than anything envisaged in Westminster.

Wales aims for renewables, including tidal power from the Severn Barrage, to provide all its electricity by 2020; by comparison, Westminster's target for the country as a whole – which it is not expected to meet – is just 40 per cent. Already, 90 per cent of the energy used by the Welsh Assembly Government's buildings comes from renewables, as does nine-tenths of the electricity used by the NHS in the principality.

The Welsh administration – a coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru – says it "sees no need for nuclear new-build in Wales" in direct defiance of Gordon Brown's determination to press ahead with it nationwide. And it aims to reduce carbon emissions by 3 per cent a year in areas it controls – the amount British ministers refused to enshrine in their Climate Change Bill.


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