THOUSANDS of tonnes of radioactive waste from disused nuclear reactors is set to be stored for the next 20 years in rural Oxfordshire.

Local villagers admit they have concerns about the plans that will see a new 92,000 sq ft storage unit on Harwell business park hold the metal from decommissioned nuclear reactors sealed inside concrete blocks until a permanent underground disposal site is built.

Radioactive materials are already stored at the old RAF base, and there have long been plans for waste from Harwell’s disused reactors to be stored on the site.

But now Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL) – a branch of the UK Atomic Energy Authority – also wants waste from Culham and Winfrith in Dorset to be transported to the site.

Approximately 2,500 cubic metres of waste would be kept on the site, within the parish of East Hendred, until a new multi-billion pound underground disposal facility opens in 2040.

RSRL operations director Andy Staples said it was safer to dismantle and store disused reactors in this way than to leave them in place.

He said: “The fundamental point is we require a storage facility at Harwell for Harwell waste anyway.

“It seems logical for it to be used for other decommissioning waste, especially as Culham is just down the road.”

Steel from the reactors – classified as Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste – would be kept inside solid 2m concrete blocks weighing 30 tonnes each, and could be transported via train to Didcot, and by lorry across Oxfordshire.

Mr Staples said 1,300 cubic metres of waste would come from the dismantling of Harwell’s reactors and another 600 cubic metres would come from Culham at the end of the JET nuclear fusion project. A total of 600 cubic metres would come from reactors at Winfrith.

A scoping report ahead of a summer 2012 planning application shows the storage unit would be capable of storing the waste for up to a century.

Mr Staples added: “On safety, we are driven by nationally agreed regulation. The safety driver is to achieve passive safety which is inherently a lower risk than the situation where we have reactors just defuelled.

“The waste will be in its final disposable form in immobilised concrete blocks.”

East Hendred Parish Council chairman John Sharp said: “Obviously it is of some concern to East Hendred because we are the nearest local community. We will be looking at it seriously in terms of what the impact might be.”

Oxfordshire’s Green Party and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament both warned against the development.

Green city councillor David Williams said waste should only be stored miles away from any population.

He said: “Although it is not fuel rod intense radiation, it is still emitting radiation.”