Letter: The nuclear past

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Privatisation of BNFL (report, 25 September) gives the Labour government the best opportunity yet to shut down the THORP reprocessing plant and put an end to British trade in plutonium, an atom-bomb material.

Producing plutonium is not a proper commercial activity, nor is there a genuine market for plutonium as a commercial fuel. If there is any doubt on this point, let BNFL "test the market" by offering for sale the UK's 55-tonne stockpile of civilian plutonium as fuel for nuclear power reactors.

UK utilities have no need for plutonium because it is not suited for use in the type of reactors they operate. Foreign utilities prefer using low-enriched uranium fuel, which is cheaper, more efficient to burn, and cannot be made into bombs. Furthermore, it is now clear that reprocessing of spent fuel is unnecessary for waste-management reasons. Spent reactor fuel can best be disposed of directly, without reprocessing.

British governments avoided dealing with the issues of reprocessing and nuclear waste by claiming that these were commercial activities for BNFL to decide. If BNFL is privatised, the Government would have clear-cut responsibility for these activities and should begin immediately to formulate a nuclear-waste policy.

There is a large and profitable post-Cold-War market for BNFL's environmental cleanup services at nuclear-weapons production sites in the United States and Russia. On the other hand, reprocessing is a dead end, a relic from the Seventies when plutonium-fueled breeder reactors were the wave of the future. Now they are a relic of the past.




Vice President

Nuclear Control Institute

Washington DC