Nuclear waste to burn at Sellafield?
Prism plant could burn UK's stockpile of plutonium waste
Mark Leftly is political correspondent at The Independent on Sunday and associate business editor across the Independent titles. He writes a weekly column, Parliamentary Business, published on a Wednesday, that covers politics and the City. He is a multi-award winning reporter and was named Press Gazette's business magazine journalist of the year prior to joining The Independent on Sunday.
Sunday 01 July 2012
GE Hitachi is poised to hand nuclear authorities a report that the US-Japanese joint venture believes will prove that Britain can solve its 100-tonne plutonium waste problem by burning it.
The UK's stockpile is the biggest civil waste deposit in the world, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for cleaning it up, had planned to convert the plutonium into fuel for other reactors.
However, GE Hitachi will say in a feasibility study to be handed to the NDA in the next two weeks that its Prism fast-reactor design could eliminate the waste, with the bonus of producing low-carbon electricity. The group wants to build a plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, and has agreed to submit a study to the NDA, which has previously been sceptical over fast-reactor technology.
The NDA has previously favoured a second Mox plant at Sellafield, even though the first one closed after a series of failures that cost £1.34bn. This method turns plutonium waste into mixed oxide fuel that can be used in conventional, light-water reactors.
The NDA was worried that the technology was relatively unproven and would not be commercially viable for decades. This remains its stance, but it has agreed to assess GE Hitachi's plans after the group said that its technology was at a more advanced stage of development.
The company wants to build two plants at its own cost within 10 years at Sellafield, only charging the taxpayer for every kilogram of plutonium it burns. This method is more straightforward than Mox, though the plants could still cost billions of pounds.
"Prism's very clever stuff," said an industry expert. "The French have just announced that they're working on one and the Russians have announced that they're building one."
GE Hitachi is also in the race to buy Horizon, the venture that is looking to build new nuclear plants in Anglesey and Gloucestershire.
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