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Sellafield dump under fire

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 25, 1993) THORP is not the only facility in the Sellafield area to come under attack (see next article). Criticism is mounting over the deep repository for nuclear waste planned there.

(393.3830) WISE Amsterdam - Geologists from the University of Glasgow have added their voices to doubts expressed in May by UK government advisors. The government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) found that patterns of water flow underground are more complex than the repository's builders, Nirex, first supposed. The RWMAC, and now the Glasgow group as well, are warning that these currents could bring radioactive material to the surface sooner than expected.

A report published by Nirex on the geology and hydrology of the Sellafield area reveals key information from boreholes drilled into the Borrowdale volcanic group, the rocks that will contain the repository. At the bottom of the boreholes, Nirex found fluid at higher pressures than anticipated. It was also salty, making it denser than fresh water.

The RWMAC, in its annual report, says water could flow up through the repo-sitory. The committee is concerned that the salty water may drive the circulation of less-dense fresh water in ways that are not understood. But their report says the main problem is uncertainty - that there is not yet enough data on flow patterns - while the Glasgow university geologists take the debate further. One of them, Stuart Haszeldine, states unequivocally, "Water from the Lake District flows downwards, along and up through site of the repository." He adds, "If we take 10,000 years as the safety limit, then the permeabilities that Nirex measured are forty times too great to meet that target."

Source: New Scientist (UK), 22 May 1993, p.9.
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