Sellafield makes last bid to save scandal-hit plant

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The Independent Online

British Nuclear Fuels is sending an emergency mission to Japan this month in a desperate attempt to stop a new £300m plant at Sellafield being closed before it even goes into production.

Environment ministers are poised to tell Sellafield they cannot open the Mox fuel manufacturing plant after the market for its product collapsed.

That would remove the last justification for reprocessing nuclear fuel in Sellafield. John Prescott's Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions insists the final decision on the fuel-making plant, pending for 18 months, must be taken soon. But, thanks to lobbying from the Department of Trade and Industry, which owns BNFL, the firm has a last chance to recover lost customers.

The plant - which the firm built on spec, with public money, without getting formal Government approval - can produce nuclear fuel made of mixed plutonium and uranium oxides (Mox).

But the case for allowing the plant to begin full operation was always doubtful because it has contracts for only 6.7 per cent of its capacity. Mox is two-and- a-half times more expensive than ordinary nuclear fuel and has found few buyers. Markets collapsed after the Independent revealed last year that Sellafield falsified safety data on Mox fuel from a pilot plant.

Two-thirds of the contracts are believed to be with German Electric Utilities. But after the Independent on Sunday revealed in February that Mox fuel with falsified data had been sent to them, the utility and the German government have refused more deliveries.

Japan also stopped taking Mox. If the plant closes, the last justification for reprocessing nuclear fuel at Sellafield will disappear because there will be no way of using the plutonium or uranium it produces.