Confusion over Thorp closure

1 October 2003

Despite intense speculation in the media of its impending closure, BNFL insisted the Thorp reprocessing plant in Sellafield is continuing with business as usual.

The £1.8 billion ($3.0 billion) facility has been operating for nine years, and there are reports of it being used for waste handling after 2010. In an article in The Guardian newspaper, Brian Watson, director of the Sellafield site, was quoted as saying: "There is £30 billion ($50 billion) worth of clean up work here. We are switching from reprocessing to clean-up".

Although insisting that it has an order book that extends to 2010 and that all existing reprocessing contracts will be honoured, the company has left its options open somewhat, acknowledging: 'The focus of the Sellafield site is shifting from commercial reprocessing to clean-up and managing the historic legacy." Furthermore, BNFL stated that any new business would depend on customer requirements, the new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (which will assume ownership of the site in 2005), and the government.

BNFL seems to have taken exception to this flurry of media speculation over the plant's future, since it believes that the 2010 date "for the completion of current business" has been public knowledge for quite sometime. But such comments have only served to substantiate rumours that BNFL is not actively pursuing new contracts, and may be preparing to wind down operations towards 2010. BNFL spokesman Paul Vallance responded: "We are always in regular ongoing dialogue with our reprocessing customers with respect to contracts." Newspaper reports have picked up on the larger issue of what the government's plans are for the future of nuclear fuel reprocessing. There has been criticism that Britain has no clear policy of how and when to abandon nuclear fuel reprocessing (and its associated waste depository dilemma), and provide an alternative to achieve climate change goals using carbon-free methods. The author of the initial report in The Guardian, Paul Brown, is not considered to be a supporter of nuclear power.

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