HL Deb 06 May 1970 vol 310 cc297-8WA

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What British radioactive materials and war gases have been dumped at sea, and where, and when; what containers were used; and how long the containers are expected to be effective.


High-level radioactive waste from the processing of irradiated fuel from nuclear reactors is not dumped in the sea but is stored—the solid waste in concrete silos, and the liquid waste in stainless steel tanks surrounded by concrete.

Between 1950 and 1963, very low level radioactive solid waste was dumped in the Hurd Deep. Containers dumped in the Hurd Deep were light metal to allow rapid dispersion. Since 1949 waste with a higher level of activity than this has been dumped approximately annually in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Continental Shelf in at least 1,500 fathoms. Containers used for Atlantic dumping are designed to sink quickly to the seabed and to remain intact for a number of years. They are normally mild steel drums with concrete linings.

Between 1945 and 1948, and in 1956 and 1957, the United Kingdom disposed of a total of about 100,000 tons (including containers) of chemical warfare ammunition. The ships containing the material for disposal (mustard gas and phosgene) were scuttled in widely dispersed areas in deep water in the Atlantic Ocean, beyond the Continental Shelf. The materials were contained in shells or bombs having the strength and security of sealing required of a projectile. It is impossible to be specific about the life of such munitions packed in the hulk of a ship on the sea-bed but, in view of the absence of air and of disturbance by surface currents at that level, it is likely that corrosion would be extremely slow. If leakage occurs as a result of corrosion, it will be slow and the toxic materials, which are heavier than water, will remain on the sea-bed until they dissolve and become hydrolysed to harmless materials.