The UK government has released figures showing the losses made at the Sellafield MOX fuel reprocessing plant.
Since the plant opened in 2002, the plant has produced a total of only 6.3t of mixed-oxide fuel. In three of those years it produced none, and in one it produced only 0.3t. According to campaign group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, its original annual production rate was 120t.
Since 2002, it has had an average net cash flow (costs minus sales) of -GBP89.5 million; -GBP626 million in total. Costs include operating costs, overheads and subcontracts. The plant cost GBP498 million to build and GBP139.4 million to commission.
The figures demonstrate why the plant should be closed, says CORE. "These figures wholly vindicate the claims of all those who opposed SMP’s construction and subsequent operation since the first planning application was submitted by the industry in 1992. With little, if any, sign of improved performance on the horizon, the NDA must honour its obligation to make best use of taxpayer’s money and pull the plug on SMP without further delay."
Head of NDA stakeholder communication Bill Hamilton said that the NDA has been up front about the plant's problems. "We inherited the plant in 2005. We have recognised from the outset in public that the plant has operational problems and that it is nowhere near its operational targets."
According to CORE, SMP’s sales to date consist of just 12 MOX fuel assemblies, produced between 2004 and 2007, for Switzerland’s Beznau power station. In 2007 work started on an order for Germany’s Grohnde power station, and two MOX fuel assemblies were completed in summer 2008. Hamilton did not comment, saying that details of customer contracts were confidential.
The production of MOX fuel involves three stages - fabricating fuel pellets (plutonium and uranium), inserting the pellets into fuel rods (rod production) and combining a specified number of fuel rods into a fuel assembly, CORE said.
According to CORE, all three production stages have suffered technical problems since the first plutonium was introduced into the plant in 2002, and current problems are focused on making up the fuel assemblies. Hamilton did not comment.
Hamilton did say that the NDA finished a final review of the facility earlier this year that included future possibilities of the plant, and is now preparing a series of options for government. Those options might include closing the plant, he said.
But he said that closing the plant is not as straightforward as some campaigners might think: "As well as the financial implications for the UK government in terms of operating the plant, there are also customer implications," Hamilton said. "There are customers that it is doing work for, and also a 1000-strong workforce."
He would not give a timescale on the government's decision, except to say that it would not be in the next few weeks. He did say that once the government did make a decision - the NDA lacks the authority to do so as a government agency - much of the review information would become public.
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