Feasibility study looks at building revolutionary new facility at Sellafield to dispose of stockpile
An ambitious plan to rid Britain of its civil plutonium stockpile – the biggest in the world – has come a step closer with the submission of a feasibility study for building revolutionary nuclear reactors to “burn” the waste at Sellafield in Cumbria.
The plan envisages the construction of twin nuclear “fast reactors” at Sellafield that can dispose of the plutonium directly as fuel to generate electricity while ridding the country of a nuclear-waste headache that has dogged governments for half a century.
Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is in overall charge of Sellafield, requested the study last year in a remarkable U-turn in its stated policy of dealing with the 112 tonnes of civil plutonium that has accumulated as a result of the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
Critics say that fast reactors are still at the research stage of development and are not yet ready to be deployed for such a critical task.
The American company behind the proposal, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, still has a long way to go to convince experts that it can deliver reactors that can work as promised, as well as being delivered on time and to budget. The NDA has consistently said that its “preferred option” to deal with the plutonium waste is to first convert it to mixed oxide (Mox) fuel and then burn it in conventional, pressurised-water reactors. However, the authority is keeping other “credible options” open, including fast reactors.
GE Hitachi said it had received US government approval to export its fast-reactor technology and could build the twin reactors without incurring upfront costs to the British taxpayer, which would be hugely popular with the UK Government.