Hundreds of tons of metal from the decommissioning of the Hinkley Point A nuclear power station will be recycled by a smelting facility in Bear Creek, Tennessee.
The metal, classified as low level waste (LLW) will travel overland from Hinkley Point to docks in Liverpool, and then by ship to Virginia, US, and then on by road to its destination at the Energy Solutions plant in Bear Creek.
There, it will be processed and recycled into shielding blocks for use at other nuclear stations. Energy Solutions will dispose of any material which cannot be recycled.
The operation is part of a groundbreaking means of recycling valuable nuclear power station metals which has been devised by the team carrying out the Hinkley A decommissioning.
It resulted in the Environment Agency authorising the shipment of up to 235 tonnes of contaminated steel from Hinkley A to the US between September, 2007, and August 2010.
The Hinkley A decommissioning team set up a decontamination plant in the power station’s former laundry building to recover and ‘clean’ the 1,725 skips holding nuclear waste in ponds and dry storage.
More than 95 per cent of the skips contained intermediate level waste which could not have been recovered without the new operation.
In just 18 months, the project team retrieved 564 skips from the dry skip store and processed almost half for the metal smelting project, with the remainder kept in temporary storage before decontamination.
A further 110 tonnes of low level rubble and debris was also removed from the dry skip store and packed into more than 500 drums.
A spokesman for Magnox South Ltd, which owns Hinkley A, said: “This will allow the continuation of a metal melt process, with up to 400 tons of LLW metal authorised to be shipped to the US for smelting and reuse within the industry.
“To gain approval, the site had to provide various facts and figures including the types of materials the site would be shipping and activity levels.”
However, the movement abroad of waste from Hinkley Point has been criticised by the anti-nuclear group Stop Hinkley.
Group co-ordinator Jim Duffy said: “This radioactive metal should be isolated from the environment.
“Magnox might save money from the long-term management of this waste by sending it for use in US nuclear power stations, but those who handle it during smelting and nuclear construction may inhale dangerous radioactive particles.”
Mr Duffy said safety issues were raised by the recycling process and there were fears that the by-products could be used for household goods.
He said: “The nuclear industry has lobbied hard to loosen the regulations on radioactive waste metal to the point where, if they succeeded, we would be cooking with slightly contaminated pots and pans made from recycled radioactive metal.
“The UK scrap metal industry has voiced its concerns at handling it, but this move takes us a step further in a process where the public may unknowingly get contaminated.
“This adds to the new risk from allowing low level radioactive waste being dumped in local council landfill sites.
“The Government has run out of options for securing this waste, mainly concrete, which is accruing in huge volumes from cleaning up nuclear sites like Hinkley A.
“So, the Environment Agency has appallingly caved in and granted licenses to dump the waste in our municipal landfills."
“Shipping contaminated waste thousands of miles might be one of the reasons the Environment Agency says the nuclear industry’s carbon footprint increased by five percent last year.”
More than 950 skips were sent from Hinkley A to Bear Creek in the first phase of the LLW recycling initiative.
Our photograph shows work on the decommissioning of Hinkley Point A. Photo by Maxnox South Ltd.