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UK’s Thorpe nuclear reprocessing plant not economically viable

Extending Thorp’s life would require investment “well in excess of £1bn”, the NDA said, including the construction of £600m of storage tanks for the highly-radioactive “liquor” that is produced by reprocessing.

“It would be very expensive to carry on much longer,” said Bill Hamilton, head of stakeholder relations at the NDA. “If there was a market out there, there would be a reason to invest, but there is no major appetite.”

Cumbria’s reprocessing plant to close Financial Times -8 June 12 By Rebecca Bream  One of the more problematic facilities in the UK nuclear industry, the Thorp reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, is set to close, reflecting a worldwide drop in demand for its services.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is responsible for cleaning up the UK’s nuclear reactor sites and dealing with radioactive waste, said on Thursday that Thorp would close in 2018 when its existing reprocessing contracts end.

Thorp – which stands for Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant – was opened in 1997 and reprocesses spent fuel from nuclear reactors in the UK as well as countries including Japan, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium. It separates off uranium and plutonium, which can both be reused, to leave radioactive waste, which is treated and stored at Sellafield.

But demand for reprocessing has been hit by the relatively low cost of newly-mined uranium, the price of which rose sharply in 2007 but fell again during the financial crisis.

Thorp’s profitability has also been hampered by its patchy performance, most notably its three-year closure after a leak of radioactive acid from a holding tank into the surrounding concrete containment shell in 2005.

British Nuclear Group, which was then in charge of running Sellafield, said the incident posed no danger to the public but admitted the leak had remained undetected for months.

Extending Thorp’s life would require investment “well in excess of £1bn”, the NDA said, including the construction of £600m of storage tanks for the highly-radioactive “liquor” that is produced by reprocessing.

“It would be very expensive to carry on much longer,” said Bill Hamilton, head of stakeholder relations at the NDA. “If there was a market out there, there would be a reason to invest, but there is no major appetite.”

As well as the high cost, reprocessing is controversial because the plutonium produced could be used to make nuclear weapons, and the waste is much more radioactive than spent fuel……

The government’s plan to build new nuclear reactors in the UK does not include reprocessing of spent fuel. It proposes to create an underground repository for the permanent storage of existing and future nuclear waste, most likely located in Cumbria, but this is not expected to be built until 2075……

Last year the NDA decided to close Sellafield’s Mox plant, which recycles plutonium into mixed oxide fuel, following doubts over orders from Japan after the Fukushima nuclear crisis…. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e31fede0-b0ae-11e1-a2a6-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1xF7Wbg9D

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June 8, 2012 - Posted by | reprocessing, UK

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