Swedish utility OKG and the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority have proposed that the UK take title of Swedish spent fuel currently held in Sellafield for reprocessing.
The proposal is for OKG AB, which operates the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, to be permitted to transfer the ownership of more than 800 kg of plutonium to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in the United Kingdom. The material is currently stored at the Sellafield site in Cumbria, UK.
The Swedish-owned plutonium in the UK has arisen from shipments of spent nuclear fuel to the Sellafield site between 1975 and 1982, for reprocessing it into new fuel for use in OKG's reactors.
However, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority said that "considerable delays in the fuel manufacturing process are likely to keep the new fuel from being used in OKG's reactors before they are ultimately shut down."
As such OKG applied to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority for permission to transfer the plutonium to the UK NDA for manufacture into fuel for use in British reactors. Following review of the application, the Safety Authority has suggested to the Swedish Government that OKG AB should be allowed to transfer this material. If approved, commercial negotiations would be carried out between the NDA and OKG.
"If the plutonium is used as fuel in British reactors, then it will be beyond reach for illegal handling," says Lars Hildingsson of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. "The level of risk posed to people and the environment is also the same, or lower, if the material remains in the United Kingdom since no complicated transports back to Sweden are involved."
The Swedish-owned plutonium in the UK comprises some 800 kg of plutonium for units 1&2 at Oskarshamn, as well as 1.2 kg of plutonium taken over by OKG from AB SVAFO following reprocessing of the fuel from R1, the first research reactor in Sweden.
The UK said in a 2011 policy statement that it would be willing to take title to foreign-owned plutonium stored in the UK, subject to compliance with intergovernmental agreements, and provided that there were commercial terms acceptable to the UK government.
In a separate announcement, OKG said that it would delay a power uprate for Oskarsham 2. The uprate was planned to coincide with a safety modernisation project that aims to extend the reactor's life by 20 years. That multi-billion Krona (hundreds of millions of dollar) project began in 2004. The modernisation project, which encompasses an increase of auxiliary power and rebuilt control room, has faced delays owing to 'greater complexity than expected within some sub-areas,' said Johan Svenningsson, Managing Director. "By this decision, we can now devote all our energy to complete the ongoing stage with continuous focus on the safety and quality of the performance, which is always top priority," he added.