Controversial sea trials are to take place to assess whether radioactive nuclear fuel and waste can be shipped from the north coast of Scotland to England.
But the prospect of “exotics” being transported from Dounreay, which is currently being decommissioned, to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing has come under fire.
Dounreay bosses insist a successful trial would give them two potential routes for sending the fuel – with contentious shipments already being made by rail.
Critics, however, warn against the risks of navigating rough seas around Cape Wrath and the Minch of the west coast of mainland Scotland.
Highland MSP John Finnie said he had particular concerns given the loss of the Coastguard’s Stornoway-based emergency tug.
It would not be the first time radioactive material has been shipped by sea from Dounreay, with controversy surrounding the continued transportation of waste to Belgium
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would give no details on how and when the fuel will be moved to Sellafield by either rail or sea, on the grounds of national security. However, a trial by sea will be undertaken later this year.
A spokeswoman for the Caithness base said members of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group had been informed about the trials in March.
She said: “If successful, this will give the option of two routes for the delivery of Dounreay’s ‘exotic’ fuel to Sellafield. The trial will allow implementation of the NDA’s preferred options paper.”
But John Boocock, co-chair of Highlands Against Nuclear Transport, said: “We are concerned that the possibility of shipping nuclear waste by sea has not been discussed with our communities in the Highlands and Islands.
“We believe any proposals to avoid processing nuclear waste at the point of use by transporting waste elsewhere should be open to public scrutiny at all stages. We also believe that public fears should be taken seriously by the nuclear authorities.”
Mr Finnie said: “It is entirely understandable that communities are concerned about this, regardless of how low the risk of accidents.
“There are a lot of factors that need to be considered here, such as the weather on the west coast –which can be very challenging in the Minch – the ongoing situation about the lack of tugs and so on.”
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The first priority should be to deal with as much of the waste as possible on site. The proposal to use ships sounds like a ploy to get this problem out of people’s minds rather than the safest option.”