November 2000

BNFL plans new nuclear power plants

The Observer [London], 26 November 2000
by Oliver Morgan, industrial correspondent

[Posted 28/11/2000]

British Nuclear Fuels is lobbying for permission to build a new generation of nuclear power stations which, it claims, would help fight climate change and cut the UK's plutonium stockpile. The state atomic energy group would use technology it acquired through buying reactor-building businesses to construct plants in place of its obsolete Magnox stations.

BNFL believes it has both the technology - with Westinghouse's AP600 and AP1000 designs and the Swiss ABB company's boiling water reactor - and the sites for the new plants, including its eight Magnox sites and its Sellafield *complex in Cumbria.

A company source said BNFL wants to build replacements as the current stations are retired. 'We have got the technology and the Magnox sites, which are already connected to the national grid,' the source said.

BNFL has talked to Whitehall officials, Ministers, and MPs. Some believe the scheme would boost BNFL's value, enhancing government plans for a part-privatisation of the group, safeguarding jobs and mitigating future rises in carbon dioxide emissions.

But others fear that the new stations would not be economic and would perpetuate reprocessing and waste disposal problems which, as highlighted by The Observer last week, would place heavy burdens on future taxpayers.

The issue has been raised in the Government's long-awaited consultation paper on radioactive waste management, which may now be published as early as next week. A draft cites a report from the Royal Society which outlines concerns over global warming. The draft adds: 'If new nuclear build were brought forward, reactors could be designed specifically with enhanced plutonium-burning capabilities.'

BNFL is anxious to find a way of dealing with the UK's 61-tonne stockpile of plutonium, the toxic substance separated in reprocessing. It can use it either as a mixed oxide - or mox-fuel, which it makes at Sellafield, or by itself. However, the market for mox fuel was damaged by a scandal last year over falsified data at Sellafield; and British Energy, the UK's privatised nuclear generator, believes it is too expensive.

A Greenpeace spokeswoman said: 'Nuclear power will never be an economic or environmentally acceptable way of addressing climate change.' A BNFL spokesman said it 'has the skills and technology to take part in a nuclear future, and welcomes the debate about what contribution nuclear power can make'.

(to be compared with the 'Our News': "In the series 'Reactor Myths'")

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