Cadarache Special - Plutonium Investigation n°20

Worth Reading

The 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 of plutonium.

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."

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