United Kingdom- Plutonium Investigation n°3

The THORP Plant Recently Licensed For Commercial Operation

The UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, one of the Government-sponsored British nuclear safety authorities, gave a "green light" in August 1997 for full operation of the THORP (Thermal oxide reprocessing plant) reprocessing plant. The plant had been operating in limited commissioning mode since March 1994 with a limited license. THORP suffered a nitric acid spill on 29 March 1994 just after initial start up. The plant is designed to reprocess AGR fuel from the British AGRs as well as many types of foreign LWR fuels. THORP was, in principle, entirely financed by its customers for the first ten years of operation, during which 7,000 metric tonnes of spent fuel were planned to be reprocessed. Of this quantity, 30.8% of the spent fuel is from British AGRs, 13.8% is from German LWRs, and 38.2% is from Japanese LWRs. Other customers are from Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada and Italy. The plant is said to have cost about £2.8 billion.

THORP currently has no firm engagements from foreign utilities for reprocessing services after the baseload contracts. Engagements were signed in 1990 for post-baseload contracts with German electricity utilities, and penalties for cancellation were due to increase significantly by the end of 1994. In December 1994, four German utilities (covering fuel from two reactors) cancelled their 1990 engagements in order to store the spent fuel in interim storage in Germany instead.

An agreement was reached between Nuclear Electric and BNFL in 1991 which planned for the reprocessing of all the spent fuel which would be produced by the Magnox reactors, and about half of the spent fuel which would be produced by AGRs. However, the wording of the contract is not known and there are doubts as to the binding character of the agreement.

During fiscal year 1996-1997 (ending 31 March 1997), the THORP plant reprocessed 398 tonnes of spent fuel, while the B205 plant at Sellafield reprocessed 601 tonnes of Magnox spent fuel.

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