Monday, May 16, 2011

UNITED KINGDOM - The British are still with their hands on plutonium

The nuclear crisis in Japan is halting a project orchestrated by the British government to use its stockpile of plutonium, the world's largest, stored on the Sellafield site in Cumbria [in the north of England]. The nervousness of the Japanese today leads a freeze on international trade in nuclear fuel reprocessed, considered essential for London to solve the problem of plutonium management.

To eliminate their plutonium stockpiles growing, because the authorities prefer a strategy that relies on a technology developed to meet the Japanese market. Now there are fears that Japan will eventually fall leaves. The contracts between the Japanese and Sellafield in the manufacture of MOX fuel made from a mixture of oxides [uranium dioxide and plutonium dioxide] were, it was hoped, bring strong economic and political arguments in favor Construction on the site of a second British nuclear plant MOX, for several billion pounds, reducing stocks of plutonium.

Yet Japanese power producers have informed the authorities that Sellafield concerns raised by Fukushima had forced them to delay indefinitely a shipment of MOX fabrication French who were to be transported by ships from the British nuclear site in Cumbria. An adjournment so meaningful, because the shipment of reprocessed fuel for the reactors was not troubled by TEPCO Fukushima managed, but those of the Hamaoka plant is in perfect condition and operated by Chubu Electric, which company would be precisely one of the main customers of the MOX plant at Sellafield is already in service (SMP Sellafield MOX Plant).

The Japanese reject the MOX English Chubu Electric and nine other power producers in Japan have also stated that due to persistent production problems encountered by SMP, they no longer use the reprocessed fuel from Britain to least until the end of this decade, nearly twenty years after the inauguration of SMP, although it was intended to supply the Japanese market.

This means that the MOX plant at Sellafield in service, designed to produce over 1000 tons of this fuel in ten years, should finally make a very small part by dismantling it, which will cost extremely heavy for the British taxpayer. This is a serious blow to the MOX production activity, yet praised by the government as the best way to manage stocks of British civil plutonium, itself derived from the reprocessing of nuclear waste at Sellafield performed.

The government launched a consultation on these stocks due to end in May, but ministers have already made clear their preference for the "MOX option," even if this requires the construction of a second MOX plant at Sellafield for 3 billion pounds, at a minimum - the cost of the life cycle of the plant most certainly be around 6 billion.

SMP, the MOX production facility at Sellafield, which opened in 2002, has so far cost more than £ 1.3 billion [1.5 billion], to produce only 13.8 tonnes of fuel into nine years, while its production should be at the origin of 120 tonnes per year. A diplomatic cable leaked to the press revealed that the United States Embassy in London sees the Sellafield plant a useless gadget which costs around 90 million pounds per year and the government itself considers, in private, as "one of the most embarrassing failures in the history of British industry." Building a plant more And yet, the ministers agreed to continue their work in preparing public opinion for the construction of a MOX plant more importantly so are exploited stocks rising British plutonium, which should reach 109 tonnes next few years.

Independent scientists, Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, members of the prestigious Royal Society also support this project, convinced that there are no viable alternatives. However, according to nuclear experts interviewed by us, the current manufacturing facility at Sellafield MOX weighs heavily on the budget of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority UK (NDA), which took over the Sellafield site to the company owned British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) in 2005.

For them, the public agency would close the plant, but that decision would have disastrous effects on public opinion when the government plans to build a new one. In January, before the nuclear accident in Fukushima, the deputy Secretary of State for Energy, Jonathan Marland, told the House of Lords with a new production of MOX fuel at Sellafield, the largest stocks plutonium in the world would cease to be a burden to become an asset, and that the decision to build or not would probably take a year.

Lord Marland was then conceded that the existing plant was inadequate and that it was for this reason that the NDA was involving the French company Areva, which wants to build the second plant of MOX on the model of its own production center [the Melox], located in Marcoule, Gard. Although the British government has not yet concluded its consultation on the issue of stockpiles of plutonium, he insists, for him, the storage and disposal of plutonium in the long run will prove more costly than building a second plant for processing into MOX.

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