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UK’s Slow Progress on Plutonium Stockpiles.

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No projected cost for a new MOX plant is given by AREVA (the last estimate by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in 2011 was around £6bn) and no mention is made of the French company’s ongoing new-build reactor fiascos in France and Finland, its financial losses that have forced its merger with state controlled EDF, its involvement with the spiralling costs and decades of delay to the AREVA design MOX plant under construction in the USA at Savannah River and – as part of the disgraced Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) consortium at Sellafield – its recent stripping of a multi £billion management contract by the NDA following spiralling budget costs and inept management of crucial projects.

 

highly-recommendedNuClear news August 2015   Since the Government confirmed in December 2011 that its preferred management option for the UK’s plutonium stockpile was to convert the ‘asset of zero value’ into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, further progress on the option has been conspicuous by its absence, says Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE). (1)

Since then the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) appears to have been concentrating its efforts on evaluating alternative projects – the GE Hitachi PRISM reactor and the Candu Energy Canmox project. Both these projects were added to the list of plutonium options as an afterthought in January 2012.

In June it was reported the Canmox scheme had emerged as a front-runner among the options under consideration and had taken a step forward with the signing of an agreement between the Canadian Government and the NDA to enhance cooperation in civil nuclear energy. Ontariobased Candu Energy is proposing to turn plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) pellets at a dedicated fabrication facility at Sellafield.

 

The MOX fuel could then be used in four thermal reactors to produce up to 3GWe of electricity. Canmox claims to be able to deal with the entire stockpile of plutonium, regardless of the grade or contamination. The distinguishing feature of the Candu technology is the use of heavy water as a moderator that provides enhanced neutron efficiency, allowing for fuel flexibility. According to Candu Energy: “The arrangement galvanizes joint research and development, regulatory co-operation, technology transfer and investment into the UK nuclear sector and has the potential to unlock a powerful energy source for UK electricity consumers.” (2)

 

 

 

A press release from AREVA on 6th July about opening a new office near Sellafield confirmed its support for the AREVA Convert Project. This is a plan to build a new facility at Sellafield to transform the UK’s plutonium stockpile into MOX fuel which “could create 2,000 construction jobs and mobilise around 1,000 full-time employees to support operations and maintenance of the future plant.” (3)

 

 

 

This hitherto unknown project is geared to converting ‘the nuclear material that is a potential liability (Sellafield’s plutonium) into a valuable fuel to help meet Britain’s low carbon power generation needs’. In more detail, the project is described as a full lifecycle solution including the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of a MOX plant in West Cumbria which would produce MOX fuel for use in ‘UK’s planned fleet of new generation nuclear reactors’. (4)

 

 

 

No projected cost for a new MOX plant is given by AREVA (the last estimate by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in 2011 was around £6bn) and no mention is made of the French company’s ongoing new-build reactor fiascos in France and Finland, its financial losses that have forced its merger with state controlled EDF, its involvement with the spiralling costs and decades of delay to the AREVA design MOX plant under construction in the USA at Savannah River and – as part of the disgraced Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) consortium at Sellafield – its recent stripping of a multi £billion management contract by the NDA following spiralling budget costs and inept management of crucial projects.

 

 

 

In a further twist to the plutonium management options currently under NDA assessment it has been reported that ‘GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada is working with Candu Energy to develop the CANMOX approach’. As GE Hitachi is already behind the proposal to use its PRISM fast reactor at Sellafield, it is clearly hedging its bets by being involved in two separate and technically very different projects to ‘get rid’ of the 140 tonnes of plutonium expected to have arisen at Sellafield once reprocessing operations have ended around 2020. Both projects (PRISM and Candu) will now have to compete with AREVA’s MOX proposal – and the possibility that all of the plutonium re-use options could yet be jettisoned in favour of immobilising plutonium as waste. (5)

 

Now the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation have been tasked by the NDA to review the option of immobilizing plutonium. The NDA says research work on the immobilization of plutonium is being carried out to find out if the process can be “industrialised” so that it could be used to treat material that is unsuitable for reuse or for disposition of the entire stockpile if Government decided not to pursue re-use. Until now, research on the immobilization option has been specifically targeted at the treatment of the small proportion of stockpiled plutonium termed as “residues” and considered through chemical contamination to be beyond re-use. The immobilization option currently being funded by the NDA and researched by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) is the Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP) process which, under high pressure and temperature, converts the plutonium into a ceramic waste form suitable for longterm storage and ultimate disposal. Though the HIP process for Sellafield’s residues has taken preference to other immobilization technologies including immobilization in cement-based grouts, as glass via vitrification or as a ceramic in “low specification” MOX, the NDA’s Plutonium Credible Options Analysis published in 2010 concludes that whilst the HIP process is technically immature for large scale bulk plutonium, it requires less development and is economically more favourable than the vitrification option.

 

 

 

A pilot plant for the immobilization of plutonium residues at NNL’s central laboratory at Sellafield is expected to start active commissioning in 2017. The process is described by NNL as “a powerful emerging technology that offers a route for the immobilisation of orphan waste streams and also has the potential to meet wasteform requirements for future nuclear fuel cycles”. Flagged up for spring this year, a Government policy announcement on plutonium management never materialized and there is currently no indication as to when such an announcement will now be made. No date has been provided for the completion of the Regulators’ review of the immobilization option. (6)

 

 

Meanwhile it has been announced that the UK is taking ownership of about one tonne – 800 kg and 140 kg, respectively – of material previously owned by a Swedish utility and a German research organisation, avoiding the cost and security measures associated with transporting the fuel back to other countries. DECC said in April 2013 that it would take over 750 kg of plutonium belonging to German utilities, 1850 kg previously loaned from France, and 350 kg from Dutch firm GKN. At the same time, 650 kg of plutonium stored at Sellafield was transferred from German to Japanese ownership. A similar deal with Germany in 2012 saw the UK take ownership of four tonnes of plutonium. (7)

 

 

 

No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.76, August 2015 22

  1. CORE 15th July 2015 http://www.corecumbria.co.uk/newsapp/pressreleases/pressmain.asp?StrNewsID=359 2. Professional Engineer 30th June 2015 http://www.imeche.org/news/engineering/uk-canada-deal-forradical-nuclear-waste-solution

 

  1. Areva 6th July 2015 http://uk.areva.com/EN/home-910/news2015united-kingdom-areva-expands-localpresence-with-new-office-in-westlakes.html
  2. See http://uk.areva.com/home/liblocal/docs/Waste-Management/AREVA_CONVERT.pdf
  3. Newswire 29th June 2015 http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1563539/ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-canadaand-candu-energy-inc-to-explore-advanced-fuel-cycle-technology-in-new-canada-uk-agreement-onnuclear-energy-cooperati
  4. International Panel on Fissile Material 30th June 2015 http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2015/06/plutonium_disposition_in_.html
  5. World Nuclear News 3rd July 2015 http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-UK-governmentincreases-control-of-civil-plutonium-03071401.html and International Panel on Fissile Material 19th July 2015 http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2014/07/uk_decision_to_take_over_.html

 

http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo76.pdf

 

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August 1, 2015 - Posted by | - plutonium, UK

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