Trouble-torn Thorp to be out of action until the summer

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The Independent Online

The Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant, which closed in April 2005 after a serious radioactive leak, will not restart until next summer following the discovery of another technical fault.

It is the latest blow for the plant's owner, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is already facing a financial crisis. The NDA funds the £2bn annual budget for cleaning up Britain's nuclear reactors and is losing an estimated £40m in income every year because of Thorp's continued closure.

Thorp, part of the Sellafield site in Cumbria, reprocesses spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium. BNFL, the company that runs Sellafield for the NDA, told The Independent on Sunday in October 2005 that Thorp would reopen in March this year. The timetable then slipped to summer 2006 and then the autumn. In September, BNFL said Thorp's restart would take place in "early 2007".

But BNFL has admitted in a staff newsletter that new technical problems, involving a filter pump in an adjoining facility, mean Thorp will not restart before April. In reality, experts say that the plant is unlikely to be operational until next summer at the earliest.

The NDA estimates it will face a £200m shortfall in 2007-08, and it is believed this figure assumes that Thorp will reopen in the spring. If the plant remains closed for longer, the NDA's budget gap will widen even further.

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