Radioactive waste to be moved to remote island

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 April, 1995, 12:00am

RADIOACTIVE waste stored in an old Wan Chai air-raid shelter is to be moved to an island south of Lantau due to concern about the shelter's condition.

A government officer yesterday said the new site would need stringent security to prevent burglars, possibly from the mainland, breaking in.

'It's a remote island almost at the border of Hong Kong and the site will be unstaffed. Security is a concern,' said the officer.

When the site is ready in 1997, waste producers are likely to be charged under the polluter-pays principle. Fears have been raised that some might try to dispose of the waste as ordinary refuse.

The Government has asked private contractors to apply to build and operate a low-level radioactive waste store on the remote, uninhabited Siu A Chau, one of the Soko Islands.

The $60-million, state-of-the-art facility will also need a jetty and road to take deliveries of the radioactive material from custom-designed boats, the tender invitation says.

New lining had to be installed in 1992 at the Wan Chai air-raid shelter in Queen's Road East, under Wan Yan College, when it was pronounced unsafe by engineers from the Civil Engineering Department.

Landslips and its position in a built-up area has made it unsuitable, although the Radiation Health Unit has stressed there is no radiation leakage either inside or outside the tunnel.

'Siu A Chau is a remote island with no development and no population,' the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said. 'The site is set into a hillside above a small bay and the store would lie below the ridgeline to minimise visual impact.' About 50 cubic metres of low-level waste is stored in steel or concrete drums in the Wan Chai tunnel.

It comprises 'smoke-detector parts, rayon mantles for kerosene lanterns, luminous watch dials and hands, lightning-protection conductor heads and weakened radiation sources from hospitals and educational institutions', the EPD said.

Hong Kong generated about 0.8 cubic metres of the waste a year - so little that deliveries to the new site would only be needed about twice a year, an EPD consultation paper said.

The new 900 square-metre store would need facilities for processing, repackaging, testing the amount of radioactivity, and washing and changing rooms for staff, according to the tender invitation. Interested groups must apply by May 2.

The Radiation Health Unit might employ another nuclear physicist to co-ordinate the new store and monitoring. Air and soil samples would probably be taken fortnightly from the new site, and remote monitoring would be continuous.

The store could be built from standard materials because the radioactivity was so low, but for security purposes 'it might have very strong doors and remote surveillance equipment', the officer said.

The material would be stored until it was no longer radioactive, when it could be thrown away as normal rubbish.




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