Japan's tsunami destroyed any hope for troubled project
A plant meant to make 120 tonnes of Mox a year managed just 13 tonnes in eight years
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Thursday 04 August 2011
The final nail in the coffin of the Sellafield Mox Plant was hammered home by the Japanese Prime Minister in May in the aftermath of the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant which was inundated by a tsunami shortly after the huge earthquake on 11 March.
Naoto Kan said that he would like to see the closure of another Japanese nuclear plant, at Hamaoka about 200km south-west of Tokyo, because it was built on two geological faults and was not designed for the sort of earthquake that had just devastated his country.
The importance of Hamaoka to Sellafield was that it is operated by Chubu Electric, the only Japanese utility with a definite contract to be supplied with mixed oxide (Mox) fuel from the controversial Sellafield Mox Plant. If Hamaoka were to close, or even be under the threat of closure, the entire rationale for keeping the Sellafield Mox Plant running was yet again called into question.
Even before Fukushima, other Japanese power utilities were looking to see if Sellafield could deliver on the Chubu Electric contract before they too committed themselves to ordering Mox fuel from the Sellafield Mox Plant, which was designed to fabricate 120 tonnes of Mox a year but had managed just over 13 tonnes in eight years.
Fukushima had suddenly, and perhaps irrevocably, changed the nuclear landscape. The international market in Mox fuel, such as it was, collapsed completely, and even before Mr Kan's comments about Hamaoka, shipments of Japanese Mox from France to Japan had been cancelled in the wake of the nuclear crisis unfolding in Japan.
This is why it was inevitable that the Sellafield Mox Plant – perhaps the biggest white elephant in Britain's industrial history – had to close at a total cost to date of about £1.34bn to the British taxpayer.
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