Mayors up in arms over radioactive waste

The government has rejected calls to export 5,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste produced by 50 years of activity at Risø research centre

The government’s plan to bury 5,000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste by 2018 has been met with opposition in the five councils that have been short-listed as suitable burying sites.

Yesterday, the mayors of Bornholm, Skive, Struer, Lolland and Kerteminde met with the health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti) to try and convince her to export the waste, but according to Bornholm’s mayor, Winni Grosbøll (Socialdemokraterne), the health minister would not budge.

“The minister is going to stick to the plan, which means that the six locations currently under consideration will be reduced to two or three by the autumn,” Grosbøll told Ritzau, who added the government should seriously consider alternatives. Currently, the government has not named specifics beyond saying that there are six possible sites among the five short-listed councils.

The waste was produced by Risø National Laboratory near Roskilde, which was established in 1955 to investigate peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

“We suggest either leaving the waste in Risø where it has been sitting already for many years, or looking at creating a co-operation deal with neighbouring countries such as Sweden or Germany who are already used to dealing with nuclear material,” Grosbøll said.

In 2003, the Danish government decided to decommission the three experimental nuclear reactors that the research centre has housed – the same year it was decided to bury the waste, which will take an estimated 300 years to become harmless.

Ole Kastbjerg Nielsen from Dansk Dekommissionering, the company responsible for disposing of the radioactive waste, told public broadcaster DR that the reason parliament decided to dispose of the waste in Denmark was to comply with the UN convention on nuclear waste that declares that each country must process its own radioactive material.

The low-level radioactive waste is comprised of goods that have been in contact with high levels of radiation or very dangerous fuel cells, such as gloves, scrap metal and irradiated concrete that has been used as radioactive shielding.

“Radioactive waste is definitely something that needs to be taken seriously and handled responsibly. Safety analyses show that it can be handled responsibly and in a way that poses no threat to the people or the environment,” Nielsen told DR.

Dansk Dekommissionering are now attempting to reduce the size of the 5,000 cubic metres of waste.

“We are trying different methods of minimising the size of the waste," Nielsen said. "Even if we burn it, there will be radioactive ash that needs to be disposed of. Another option is to melt the metals. That is being examined now to see whether it is affordable and responsible.”

Tarjei Haaland, a spokesperson for environmental organisation Greenpeace, told Ritzau that exporting the waste was no solution and that the best option was to bury the waste close to the Risø centre in order to reduce the risk of an accident during transportation.

“Our view is that we ought to dispose of the medium level radioactive waste that we are responsible for creating over the years at the three research reactors at Risø, ourselves," Haaland said.

In Kerteminde Council, 8,000 of its 28,000 inhabitants have signed a petition against accepting the waste.

The Risø research centre was merged with the Technical University of Denmark in 2008 and renamed the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy. The current focus of its research includes fuel cell technology, renewable energy technology as well as radiation shielding.

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