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Brief summary of Engineering and Technology’s fine article on UK’s plutonium problem.

At the end of 2021, the UK closed the curtain on one part of its nuclear waste legacy and took a few more steps towards a longer-lasting legacy. A reprocessing plant, built at the cost of £9bn in the 1990s to repackage waste plutonium from pressurised water reactors in the UK and around the world for use in new fuel, finally converted the last remaining liquid residue from Germany, Italy and Japan into glass and packed it into steel containers.

It will take another six years to ship it and all the other waste that belongs to the reactor owners, who are contractually obliged to take it back.

Even when the foreign-owned waste has headed back home, the UK will still play host to one of the largest hoards of plutonium in the world, standing at more than 110 tonnes. It amounts to a fifth of the world’s total and a third of the global civilian stockpile of 316 tonnes.

Despite operating a smaller nuclear fleet than France’s, the UK has 1.5 times more plutonium. It was never meant to end this way. The long-term dream was for fission-capable fuel to keep going round in a circle, only topped up with virgin uranium when necessary. The plutonium produced during fission could itself sustain further fission in the right conditions.

However, fast-breeder reactors that would be needed to close the cycle remain largely experimental, even in countries such as Russia where their development continues. Driven by both safety concerns and worries about nuclear proliferation that might result from easier access to separated and refined plutonium-239, the West abandoned its fast-breeder programmes
decades ago.

 Engineering & Technology 15th Feb 2022


February 17, 2022 - Posted by | - plutonium, UK


  1. I heard a story about why the symbol for Plutonium is Pu instead of Pl: Glen Seborg saw what bad stuff it was and decided the name would be Pu — because figuratively it stank. (¿Do you know whether it actually stinks?)

    Comment by Jan Boudart | February 17, 2022 | Reply

    • What a great question ! I love it Despite its stinky reputation, Plutonium doesn’t have a foul smell. In fact, not many people have the opportunity to smell it. That’s because plutonium is so poisonous that if you inhaled it its radiation would have you dead, give you cancer, or both.

      Comment by Christina Macpherson | February 17, 2022 | Reply

  2. I heard a story about why plutonium has the symbol Pu instead of Pl: Glen Seaborg, perceived what bad stuff it was and decided the symbol would be Pu.

    Comment by janboudart1gmailcom | February 17, 2022 | Reply

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