First quarter of 1999

Conclusions on Reprocessing, Plutonium and MOX

From the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee Report published, 24 March 1999

[Posted 26/03/1999]

7.48 Our concern is with the waste management implications of reprocessing. We are convinced that the reprocessing of spent Magnox fuel should continue, because of the difficulties of storing this fuel for long periods and of disposing of it. Reprocessing of AGR and PWR fuel is environmentally neutral compared to direct disposal but reprocessing of this fuel is not valuable as a waste management method unless the separated plutonium can be recycled or re-used.

7.49 The one current use for separated civil plutonium is in the fabrication of MOX fuel. In the much longer term it may be possible to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors. In the United Kingdom our stocks of separated plutonium far exceed the amounts we could use as MOX in our own reactors or that we might wish to keep as a strategic resource for a future fast reactor programme. We have no reactors which can use MOX at present. The amount required as the initial charge in the core of a 1 GW(e) fast reactor is about 4 tonnes; our stocks of civil plutonium could reach over 100 tonnes by 2010.

7.50 There is no reason to continue to store plutonium which is surplus to all foreseeable requirements. Furthermore if any plutonium is to be declared waste it is necessary to know the quantity to be so declared soon, because of its implications for repository capacity and hence site selection.

7.51 We therefore recommend that the Government develops, as soon as practicable, a clear policy on the long-term management of the United Kingdom's plutonium stock. Our view is that this should consist of maintaining a minimum strategic stock of civil plutonium and declaring the remainder to be waste. Surplus defence-related plutonium should be declared formally to be waste and plans made for its long-term management.

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