German utilities have contracts with Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant for around 1,900 tonnes of spent fuel, which represents around 18 per cent of the Thorp order book (by weight). In the unlikely event that the plant were able to get back on schedule following recent breakdowns, Thorp would still only have enough work to keep it going until 2009 unless it wins new orders. In the meantime, the plant continues to increase the international stockpile of weapons-useable plutonium.
On the other hand, BNFL is a major world player in dry storage technology and decommissioning and radioactive waste clean-up work. If BNFL approaches the forthcoming talks with Germany in a constructive and conciliatory manner, it can expect to be able to capitalise on these areas of expertise and gain new work from the German utilities.
It is clear that reprocessing is a dying industry. BNFL should seize the opportunity presented by the German decision to get out of reprocessing, and diversify into nuclear services such as waste storage, clean-up and decommissioning which its customers actually want. It makes neither business nor environmental sense to insist that customers continue to separate plutonium against their wishes.
London N1Reuse content