Fears are growing that the arrangement brokered by the UK government could put safety at risk.
About 700kg of British highly enriched uranium (HEU) –the largest ever shipment of the radioactive material – is to be sent from the Dounreay storage facility in Caithness to the US. In exchange, a different form of the element will be sent from the US to the European atomic agency Euratom, for conversion to medical isotopes used to diagnose and treat cancer.
The deal will be formally announced by David Cameron on a trip to Washington and has been branded a “win, win” deal by the UK government.
But Scottish Greens justice spokesman John Finnie last night hit out at the move.
“The UK government’s attempt to present the proposal to send dangerous nuclear waste across the Atlantic as helping in the fight against cancer is at best misleading, and at worst cynical,” he said.
“Moving such a large amount of toxic waste shows callous disregard for the safety of people in the Highlands. There must be better ways to fight cancer than sending dangerous uranium on an 11,000km round trip.”
The Prime Minister will set out details of the plans in Washington where he is attending the international Nuclear Security Summit.
A UK government source said: “He will be announcing a landmark deal we have agreed with the United States and with Euratom, the European atomic energy agency, to turn nuclear waste into cancer-fighting treatment.
“Under this deal we will do the largest ever movement of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) out of the UK – 700kg.
“We will transfer that to the United States who have the facilities and capacity to process that, and in return the US are going to provide HEU in a different form to Euratom, the European agency, for use in European reactors that can produce medical isotopes that are then used in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions including thyroid cancer.
“It’s a win-win, we get rid of waste and we get back something that will help us to fight cancer.”
The HEU being sent by the US would be processed in France for use in hospitals across Europe.