Disposition of Civil Plutonium in the UK
by Fred Barker and Mike Sadnicki,
April 2001, 241 p.
Immobilization of plutonium in storage MOX (or "bad
MOX") could be up to 30 per cent cheaper and twice as quick to implement
as the reprocessing-recycling option for disposal of plutonium. A study
of disposal of stocks of "civil" plutonium in the UK by two independent
British experts, F. Barker and M. Sadnicki, confirms that the plutonium
route is not a competitive solution and indicates possible solutions
for getting out of the dilemma of the continually increasing stocks
This study is the UK counterpoint to the French Charpin-Dessus-Pellat
report submitted to France's Prime Minister in July 2000, which
demonstrated that the reprocessing option is economically unfavorable.
The British study was not based on calculation of the costs of the nuclear
option with and without reprocessing, but rather on a comparison of
the management costs of the enormous and ever growing stocks of separated
plutonium from the nuclear power sector (61.7 tons at 31 March 2001).
In particular, the experts compare the costs and time for disposal of
plutonium using the MOX plant at Sellafield (with a capacity of 120
tons per year, the plant officially cost £460 million
but has never been put into service) to produce either reactor quality
MOX (it would then be necessary to build new reactors to use the MOX)
or "storage MOX" (making low-quality or "bad MOX", according to the
concept developed by the German Öko-Institut), or in ceramic pucks
with a matrix that immobilizes the plutonium.
The results indicate that manufacture of storage MOX
performs best in terms of cost and time and that immobilization in ceramic
matrix (including the building of plant) is equivalent in terms of cost
to the reprocessing-recycling option, but twice as efficient in terms
of time. The analysis of these scenarios from the point of view of resistance
to proliferation, waste management or even political acceptability confirms
that "there is no economic justification for operation of the Sellafield
MOX Plant (SMP) for MOX fuel production".
Four scientists from the University of Princeton and
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who analyzed the basis
of the storage MOX concept (see Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist,
May/June 2001), also came to the following conclusion: "converting
plutonium to storage mox and placing it in a massive container mixed
with highly radioactive waste or spent fuel is clearly preferable to
storing it indefinitely in a separated form."
Barker and Sadnicki's conclusions leave no room for
appeal: "The poor commercial prospects for use of plutonium fuels
mean that separated plutonium is unlikely to re-emerge as having commercial
energy value in the foreseeable future. Civil separated plutonium should
therefore be categorised as a liability and a waste. The costs of plutonium
disposition should be included in forward projections of cash flows,
and in balance-sheets. (...) It follows that a recycling
rationale for continued reprocessing does not exist."