Fourth quarter of 2002

UK Government admits that part of separated plutonium and uranium stocks “may have to be managed as waste”

On 26 September 2002 the United Kingdom Government admitted in a written answer by to a parliamentary question that UK separated plutonium and uranium, byproducts of the reprocessing industry, “may have to be managed as waste”.

WISE-Paris, 12 November 2002

[Posted 20/11/2002]

Michael Meacher, UK Minister of the Environment, in his written answer to a parliamentary question on UK radioactive waste management, recognized that the Government “intends, in assessing management options, to include not only materials currently classified as waste but also to consider the consequences of providing for other materials which may have to be managed as waste during the period, such as some separated plutonium, and uranium, as well as certain quantities of spent nuclear fuel”. This statement is made in a very depreciated climate for the reprocessing industry in the UK. In fact, on 5 September 2002, British Energy, Britain’s biggest nuclear generator, privatized in 1996, warned the Government it would face bankruptcy unless the Government brought immediate financial support. (1)

British Energy considers that part of the crisis is due to the costs of the reprocessing agreements. The electric utility, which produces 20 % of the country’s electricity, also claimed for a long term restructuring, analyzed by the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA), in a letter dated 3 September 2002, as need to reconsider the burden of the reprocessing contracts signed with BNFL before privatization. In fact, most analysts pointed the financial expenditures bound to waste management was first to blame. The UK Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC), an independent body advising the UK Government, warned as early as September 2001, that separated plutonium and uranium stocks would need to be managed as waste in the near future. In its response to a consultation document on “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: Proposals for Developing a Policy for Managing Solid Radioactive Waste in the UK”, RWMAC stressed that “it is now inevitable that at least a proportion of the UK’s current stocks of plutonium and uranium will need to be declared as wastes at some point in the future”. (2) Moreover, the Government had already recognized, on 22 October 2001 in an answer to a Parliamentary question by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Mr. Wilson, that stocks of separated plutonium and reprocessed uranium "were given a nil value" in the National Asset Register.

Michael Meacher’s statement is therefore one step further in the UK Government recognition of the problem posed by the declared stock of 82.4 t of civilian separated plutonium (of which 17.1 t under foreign ownership) as of 31 December 2001. (3) Unknown quantities of separated uranium arising from the UK reprocessing industry are also to be taken into account, and it certainly represents a stock of tens of thousands of tons. The latest declaration by the UK to the IAEA of national plutonium stocks included also the declaration of 89,900 tons of “civil depleted, natural and low enriched uranium (DNLEU) in the civil nuclear fuel cycle” which may include some of the reprocessed uranium stocks.


  1. See WISE-Paris news, “Reprocessing burden too heavy for British Energy, faced with insolvency”, 6 September 2002
  2. See WISE-Paris news, “Part of plutonium and uranium stocks must be declared waste, says Advisory Committee to the UK Government”, 22 March 2002
  3. See WISE-Paris news, “UK civilian plutonium stockpile still on the uphill”, 28 August 2002

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