NIS warns of risks of plutonium nuclear fuel fabrication

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Photo: The plutonium storage vault at Sellafield.

Nuclear Information Service has written to the government expressing alarm at proposals to convert the United Kingdom's stockpile of plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel.

NIS has written in response to consultation by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on the long-term management of the UK's unwanted plutonium stocks in which the government expresses a 'preliminary view' that the nation's civil plutonium stocks should be  converted into mixed oxide reactor fuel.

NIS's response points out that the experience of the existing mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant at Sellafield – described as "one of Her Majesty's Government's most embarrassing failures in British industrial history" by US embassy staff – has demonstrated the formidable technical and economic problems in fabricating mixed oxide fuel, and that conversion of plutonium reserves into fuel would commit the government to providing a potentially open-ended taxpayer subsidy to the project.  The plans would also undermine the government's attempts to prevent the proliferation of fissile nuclear materials by opening up a global trade in just such materials.

Plutonium is an important component in modern thermo-nuclear weapons and most of the UK's plutonium stocks were produced in the 1960s to provide material for nuclear weapons.

NIS Project Director Peter Burt said: “This consultation exercise is a thinly-disguised proposal for building yet another white-elephant nuclear project at Sellafield.

“By setting out its preliminary view on the matter, the government is saying in plain terms that it has already made up its mind that it intends to convert plutonium stocks into mixed oxide reactor fuel – even though there is no market for this type of fuel.

“The only real long-term option for dealing with this most dangerous of materials is to treat it as a waste and place it beyond any further use.”

Download NIS's full response to the DECC consultation paper here: