United Kingdom- Plutonium Investigation n°3

February 1998                                     Editorial

Out of control

The United Kingdom is unique in that it produces massive quantities of plutonium without any domestic use for it. No reactor in the UK has a license nor is adapted to use plutonium fuel (MOX). If Sizewell-B, the UK's only light water reactor, were to be converted to MOX use, it would absorb hardly more than 150 kilos of plutonium per year. It would take the reactor some 400 years to absorb the current stockpile of about 60,000 kilos of separated plutonium in the UK. Reprocessing of gas-graphite and advanced reactor fuel continues, although the technical feasibility of dry storage was demonstrated years ago. Foreign light water reactor fuel reprocessing is increasing steadily. When THORP started up first at Sellafield in 1994, the plutonium stockpile in the UK was already over 40,000 kilos. During 1997, the mountain grew by an unprecedented 5,000 kilos.

Of course, there is no plan to introduce MOX into Sizewell-B nor into any other reactor in the UK. And - as illustrated by the spectacular evolution of the stockpile in the country - foreign clients are equally unable to take home their share of this increasingly awkward and expensive material to manage.

The United Kingdom is a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) and has developed its plutonium production capacity under the particular conditions linked to a highly sensitive arms program: no transparency, no democratic debate, and until recently virtually no formal public involvement in any decision making process. That is history.

The current British plutonium policy lacks any identifiable rationale. That is the present. What will be the future ?

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Worth Reading & Surfing

"Management of Separated Plutonium"
The Royal Society
14 pages, February 1998
Price : £12.