UK to claim over 2,900kg of foreign waste plutonium
Britain is home to more spent civilian plutonium than any other
country in the world. The Office for Nuclear Regulation said that
as of December 2011 Britain was storing 118.2 tons of plutonium, of
which 27.9 tons is owned by foreign entities.
Now London wants to recycle some of the stored substance into
mixed oxide fuel (MOX), to be used for a new generation of nuclear
power stations, which are currently under discussion.
Tuesday, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
announced the UK will take control of 1,850 kg of plutonium which
was previously earmarked to repay France. In a series of complex
swaps, Sellafield will assume control of 750 kg of German-owned
plutonium and 350 kg of Dutch owned material.
The deal has been approved by Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning
Authority and the DECC insists that the change of ownership does
not mean more nuclear fuel will be stored in the
“There are advantages to having national control over more of
the civil plutonium in the UK as this gives us greater influence
over how we ultimately manage it,” Michael Fallon, Britain’s
minister of state for energy, said in statement.
The DECC declined to say to what extent the ownership transfers
benefited British taxpayers.
The UK government currently spends 2 billion pounds ($3.1
billion) a year on managing its growing plutonium mountain. These
expenses are not expected to be alleviated soon. None of the new
nuclear power stations are due to become operational until the
2020’s, and it is still unclear how many of them are going to be
built. Even the MOX plant constructed by the French is not expected
to be finished by 2015.
Plutonium is a radioactive by-product found in spent nuclear
fuel when it is removed from a nuclear reactor. It can be recycled,
although the process is expensive and technologically difficult It
is used to make MOX fuel, which is an alternative to low-enriched
uranium and usually comes as a blend of plutonium and
Some of the plutonium stored in Britain comes from the country’s own nuclear weapons program of the 1950’s and 1960’s and was created by the UK’s first generation of nuclear reactors – the Magnox reactor.
Magnox reactors ended up producing far more plutonium than the
UK needed, partly because they were operated for longer than
envisaged and partly because during the miners’ strike of 1972 and
1974 and the three day week of 1973 they were run at full tilt just
to keep the lights on.