Plute options

22 August 2008

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has outlined the potential options for future management of the UK civil plutonium stockpile in a paper published on 14 August. The three “credible options” for the stockpile are: long-term storage; immobilisation and disposal; and reuse as fuel for nuclear reactors followed by disposal.

The UK has built up a stockpile of around 100t of separated civil plutonium as a result of reprocessing operations since the 1950s. This includes around 83t plutonium derived from the UK’s fleet of 26 Magnox reactors, about 15t of Thorp derived plutonium owned by British Energy, as well as a small amount of residues containing about 3t plutonium. The study estimates that the country will hold a further 34t of foreign-owned plutonium once reprocessing contracts are completed, but states that this inventory falls outside the scope of the study.

Although current UK policy is long-term storage, this does not provide a solution to plutonium management nor allow the development of final site closure plans for Sellafield and Dounreay, where the material is currently stored. In addition, the new store being built at Sellafield does not have the capacity for storage post 2036 and so if the UK plans to store for the long term, additional capacity will need to be added.

Cost estimates are not disclosed, but the report states: “There is no quick or inexpensive solution.” The sale of plutonium to foreign utilities or fuel manufacturers wishing to use it as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel was listed under the ‘reuse and dispose’ option and is “likely to be the cheapest of any of the options,” the NDA said. However, this option “would require the movement of several hundred shipments of plutonium, which is unlikely to be favoured politically.” Alternatively, the plutonium could be converted to MOX fuel in the UK, though this would likely require the construction of a new MOX fabrication facility.

Comments are now being sought on the potential options for the future management of the UK civil nuclear plutonium stockpile, and the NDA wants stakeholder comments before 8 October.


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