BBC News is carrying a story about the ongoing decommissioning process at the former Doonreay nuclear plant on the north coast in Caithness.
If you didn’t see the photographs it could sound quite impressive that the irradiated material - concrete, glass, clothing, boots, rags and paper – is to be buried in ‘the two biggest holes in Caithness’.
However, the accompanying photograph of one of the euphemistically named ‘vaults’ shows that these ‘holes’ – there are two of them, the largest at 200,000 cubic metres – are large and surprisingly shallow.
Much is made of the fact that a vertical rock spine will separate the two but no mention is made at all of any data on porosity tests. Large shallow depressions of these dimensions will not be environmentally secure if the ground beneath them is subject to seepage.
Announcements of this kind should never be made without the accompanying science being given. The record of practice at Doonreay when it was an operational nuclear plant was such that it is entirely reasonable, on precedent, to assume that if the science is not given, there is no science governing the actions taken. Who will forget the revelation that they had been chucking high level nuclear waste down a rock fissure on the cliff site at the edge of the Pentland Firth?
The other question to be asked is quite where the human material concerned – the clothes, rags, paper, boots etc – has been stored since it became irradiated?
It will be 300 years before the material on this site, which will require constant monitoring, will have degraded in toxicity by 95%, possibly allowing its reopening then, should this estimate prove correct.