Shetland and other councils are alarmed at proposals to discharge quantities of radioactive gases and liquids hundreds - or even millions - of times greater than in recent years. They are worried about the long-term risks for human health and the environment.
Dounreay’s reactors and reprocessing plants were shut down in the 1990s when the UK government abandoned the development of an experimental nuclear technology. It has since embarked on a £2.5 billion decommissioning programme currently aimed at closing the site within the next 13 years.
But the work is expected to produce lots of additional radioactive wastes that will need to be disposed of. Dounreay has told the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) that it is intending to hugely increase its emissions.
Annual discharges of liquid tritium into the Pentland Firth are scheduled to be more than 500 times greater than they’ve been in the last five years. Aerial emissions of the radioactive gas, krypton-85, are due to leap by more than 250 million times.
There are also planned increases in discharges of alpha radioactivity, which includes plutonium, as well as iodine-129 and strontium-90 (see table below). Such huge increases flout Dounreay’s legal duty to use “best practical means” to minimise the creation and disposal of radioactive waste, the councils argue.