USA - Plutonium Investigation n°17-18
 

News !
Figures of the month
Plutonium Stocks in the United States

Annual figures for civil unirradiated plutonium
As of 31st Dec. 1997 rounded for 1 tonne plutonium
As of 31st Dec. 1996
1. Unirradiated separated plutonium in product stores at reprocessing plants
0.00 t
0.00 t
2. Unirradiated separated plutonium in the course of manufacture or fabrication and plutonium in unirradiated products at fuel or other fabricating plants or elsewhere
< 0.05 t
< 0.05 t
3. Plutonium in unirradiated fuel or other fabricated products at reactor sites or elsewhere
4.60 t
4.60 t
4. Unirradiated separated plutonium held elsewhere**
40.40 t
40.40 t
TOTAL (this line does not exist in the official document)
45.00 t
45.00 t

* : rounded for 100 kg
** : including separated plutonium used for research purposes


Estimated quantities of plutonium contained in spent civil reactor fuel
As of 31st Dec. 1997 rounded for 1 tonne plutonium
As of 31st Dec. 1996
1. Plutonium contained in spent fuel at civil reactor sites
287 t
270 t
2. Plutonium contained in spent fuel at reprocessing plants
0 t
0 t
3. Plutonium contained in spent fuel held elsewhere
15 t
13 t
TOTAL (this line does not exist in the official document)
302 t
283 t
(Source: Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the IAEA, 11 October 1999)
 

   The 45 t of separated plutonium along with 7,5 t of the 15 t listed in plutonium contained in spent civil reactor fuel constitutes the 52,5 t that the United States has declared as excess to defense needs. These 7,5 t were originally generated or acquired for defense purposes but have not been separated from the spent fuel. According to the US government statement, there is no American separated plutonium in the U.S. or elsewhere than that which was produced or acquired in the past for defense-related purposes.

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The words of the month

   "NO ONE CAN BUY THE CASE FOR SELLAFIELD ANY LONGER"

   "The worst argument for keeping the nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield going is that it employs a lot of people. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that that is almost the only reason why BNFL still exists. The reprocessing industry was set up to produce the enriched plutonium originally needed for nuclear weapons, and it has managed to keep going as the supplier of fuel to new kinds of nuclear power stations that have so far failed to produce electricity at an economical price."

The Independent, 12 February 2000
(UK Daily Paper which revealed the quality control falsification issue)



   "If the managers of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) were secretly in the pay of green lobbyists working to shut down Britain's nuclear industry, they could scarcely have done a better job. (...)"
   "The focus today on reprocessing dates back to Cold War days when uranium was expensive. Today it is cheap and there is a case to be examined for BNFL scrapping its reprocessing facilities, either charging clients to store waste instead or developing its other concerns."

The Times, Editorial, 19 February 2000


   "If Japan and Germany pull out, BNFL's sales of MOX fuel - and a new plant it has constructed to make it - will be doomed. And the rationale of its mainbusiness, reprocessing used nuclear fuel, will disappear."

The Independent on Sunday, 20 February 2000


   "Pressure is mounting for top-level sackings at Sellafield today as the nuclear plant faces its worst crisis in 30 years. (...)"

   BNFL's most recent Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) report, "Responsible for safety and care for the environment", released last October, carries a verification statement by Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance Ltd (LRQA).

   The statement says that "the sites (including Sellafield) visited by LRQA were well run with management and staff committed to EH&S management. Mechanisms for achieving improvements in EH&S performance at site level were consistent with corporate objectives".

   One of the NII reports, on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) team inspection of the control and supervision of operations at BNFL's Sellafield site, issued last Friday states as one of three main conclusions that "there is a lack of high quality safety managemeent system across the site which is compounded by an overly complex management structure".

Evening News & Star, 19 February 2000,
under the headline "DAMNED"


   "BNFL said yesterday that workers at the mixed oxide plant had measured the batch of pellets as required and were sure they were safe and to specification, but the computer had crashed and the data had been lost. Rather than do the work again, they falsified the data, copying from a previous batch. The fuel was then made into rods, delivered to the German company and placed in the reactor."

The Guardian, London, 23 February 2000

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What a Waste

BNFL: Privatization Bye, Bye...?

   The story is unusual, to say the least. The only other case, one can recall, is the falsification of welding x-rays in certain French nuclear power plants years ago. When the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) published its damning report on "MOX fuel data falsification at BNFL, Sellafield", on 18 February 2000, the story had been around for a few months, but few expected such a harsh and unusual judgment by the safety authorities: "In particular, the deficiencies found in the quality checking process will have to be rectified, the management of the plant improved and operators either replaced or retrained to bring the safety culture in the plant up to standard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires for a nuclear installation". (Download a PDF version of the full report at: http://www.pu-investigation.org/reports/000221HSEMOXFalsification.pdf)

   In the meantime the incriminated plant remains shut down. The plant, that is the MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Sellafield, close to the THORP reprocessing facility, also operated by BNFL. The NII chief inspector, Lawrence Williams, said at the press conference launching the reports, that he would withdraw the operating licence for THORP if safety upgrades in the high level liquid radioactive wastes storage tanks at Sellafield were not implemented within the tough timeframe the NII set out. And the large 120 t Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) is still waiting for a license to operate. Hard to imagine that this will happen soon. Even more uncertain seems the planned 49% privatization of BNFL. Who wants to buy a sinking ship?

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