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Sellafield cool on Prism

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) played down prospects for adopting GE Hitachi’s proposals to reuse the UK’s legacy plutonium stockpile this week.

An NDA spokesman told NCE that no final decision has been made on how the government plans to deal with the plutonium stockpile.

Current Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) policy is to build a new mixed-oxide (Mox) plant to use as fuel for the UK’s new fleet of nuclear reactors.

Mox nuclear fuel allows uranium and plutonium to be recycled as part of what is called a closed fuel cycle strategy that reduces waste and prolongs fuel supplies.

The spokesman said that GE Hitachi’s plans for a 600MW prism reactor appeared to be the least advanced of the options for tackling the stockpile.

“It is very difficult to assess something that has not been used,” said the spokesman.

“The GE Hitachi reactor has never been used anywhere in the world so there are question marks around its technical suitability.”

NDA is assessing the best way to manage the UK’s 90t plutonium stockpile for Decc with a recommendation due at the end of the year. The NDA also manages a further 28t of plutonium from overseas plants.

GE Hitachi’s new prism reactor proposed for Sellafield would rule out the need for a new Mox facility. The firm carried out a feasibility study with the NDA last year.

GE Hitachi said it could build the plant without up front cost to the taxpayer. It would recoup its investment by charging a fee to take the plutonium as well as selling electricity generated from the reactor.

The government has previously tried to convert its stockpile to Mox fuel through its Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp), built in early 1990s.

NDA predecessor British Nuclear Fuels constructed the plant but it was over budget and delayed.

The plant is now due to close in 2018 after orders from Japanese customers were cancelled following the Fukushima disaster in 2011 which prompted a move away from nuclear.

But the NDA has noted the successful commercial operation of nuclear reactor vendor Areva’s plant in France which can produce up to 195t of Mox fuel.

Canadian energy firm Candu has also offered to build its Enhanced Candu (EC6) reactor at Sellafield. But this would still require the construction of a Mox plant.

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