Spain - Plutonium Investigation n°16

Spent fuel reprocessing agreements

   The most important foreign deals however concern the Franco-Spanish collaboration on the controversial plant Vandellós-l, and the reprocessing agreements with France and the UK. The UK Atomic Energy Authority contracted irradiated spent MTR fuel from the JEN-1, Argos and Arbi research reactors to be reprocessed, which was delivered to the plant in Scotland in 1992. According to information provided by UKAEA, operators of Dounreay, six spent fuel rods from Arbi were reprocessed in March 1993. The "extremely small" amount of plutonium in the waste stream will be stored at Dounreay and eventually returned to Spain.

   Earlier, in 1982, 47.52 tonnes of spent fuel from the Zorita plant and 97.97 tonnes from Garoña had been contracted for reprocessing at the UK's other reprocessor, BNFL. If reprocessed to schedule, which with chronic operational delays in the THORP reprocessing facility seems unlikely, then the Garoña fuel should liberate 378.15 kg fissile plutonium in 2002; and the Zorita fuel some 249.51 kg of fissile pu in 2003. Another assessment, by David Albright suggested in 1997 that by the end of the year 2000, some 400 kilogrammes of Spanish-origin plutonium would be reprocessed. A letter from the Spanish minister for relations with Parliament, dated 12 April 1988, to an MP states that the plutonium arising from the reprocessing of the spent fuel will become the property of BNFL. This means that Spain has handed over to a nuclear weapons state quantities of plutonium that could have been mixed with UK origin material and put into the military stockpile. The UK government has admitted up to 1986 it co-processed civil and military plutonium together at Sellafield. Since 1976 all commercial reprocessing contracts with BNFL at Sellafield have included commitments to return radioactive waste arisings to the country of origin of the fuel. It would seem in this case the waste will be repatriated to Spain, but not the plutonium.

   But if the case of UK reprocessing raises some concerns, what has happened over the irradiated fuel from Vandellós-l is very disturbing.

Back to contents                 To be continued