I have continuously raised the issue of discharges of technetium-99 and other radionuclides from Sellafield into the Irish Sea with United Kingdom ministers, most recently when I met the Secretary of State for the Environment in December 2003. The decision, announced in June 2003, to proceed with trials in relation to TPP came as a result of a review of the discharge limits for technetium-99 from Sellafield, for which the Irish Government had pressed strongly. Following this review, the UK Government requested BNFL to cease discharges of technetium-99 to the Irish Sea pending plant trials of TPP.
TPP is an organophosphate which, when introduced into a chemical process during radioactive waste conditioning at Sellafield, combines with technetium-99 to create a solid compound. Following laboratory tests, a plant scale trial of the process was carried out by the Environment Agency and BNFL in November and December 2003. The trial is being conducted to assess the efficiency of removing technetium-99 from liquid discharges into the Irish Sea. As well as assessing TPP's ability to combine with technetium-99, the trial has looked at the costs of the process, the environmental impact of TPP, the form of waste produced, the safety and operability of the process and its impact on public and worker safety.
While the Environment Agency has reported informally on the mechanics of the trial, official results have not yet been published. I understand that, for TPP to be used on an ongoing basis by BNFL, authorisation by the regulators will be necessary. BNFL will need to obtain approval from the Environment Agency for TPP discharges, a letter of comfort from Nirex for the storage of solid technetium-99 waste, and approval from the nuclear installations inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive for the new processes involved.
I have asked the Secretary of State for a full report on the trials once final conclusions have been drawn. Experts from the RPII have also been in contact with their counterparts in the UK Environment Agency concerning the progress of the trials.