Exclusive:

Plans to build a nuclear fast reactor at Sellafield come a step closer

 

A radical plan to deal with Britain’s plutonium waste – the biggest civil deposit in the world – has come a step closer with a legal contract to test the feasibility of building an American nuclear fast reactor on the Sellafield site in Cumbria.

Britain’s own fast-reactor programme was abandoned two decades ago and yesterday it was announced that the fast-reactor site at Dounreay in Scotland will be dismantled by 2025 at a cost of £2.7bn.

However, The Independent can reveal that nuclear officials have signed a feasibility study to investigate the possibility of building an American-designed fast reactor to “burn” the plutonium waste on-site at Sellafield.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which has overall responsibility for Sellafield and its 100-tonne plutonium-waste problem, has signed the deal with GE-Hitachi to see whether its Prism fast reactor can directly eliminate the plutonium waste rather than the alternative method of converting it into mixed oxide (Mox) fuel for conventional nuclear reactors.

The deal represents a remarkable U-turn on the part of the NDA which has consistently said that its preferred option to deal with the plutonium waste at Sellafield is to build a second Mox fuel plant at Sellafield – the first Mox fuel plant was closed last year after a catalogue of failures costing £1.34bn.

It is also ironic given that the reason why Britain has such a large amount of civil plutonium waste is because the UK nuclear industry wanted to burn it in fast reactors at Dounreay in Scotland, which had to be abandoned two decades ago, again because of technical failures.

Yesterday, the NDA announced that it would now cost nearly £3bn to decommission the heavily-contaminated site at Dounreay, although it attempted to sweeten the pill by claiming that this was £1bn less than originally planned.

In a statement to The Independent, the NDA said that it had originally ruled out fast reactors as a “credible option” for disposing of the plutonium because the technology was immature and such reactors would not be commercially available for several decades.

“GE Hitachi subsequently approached NDA to suggest their technology was at a more advanced stage of development. Discussions are now ongoing and a contract has been signed between NDA and GE Hitachi for a feasibility study which will be delivered over the next 3-4 months and, after review of the outputs, NDA will consider the credibility, or otherwise, of the proposal,” the NDA said.

“At this stage, evidence has not been provided which changes the NDA position that fast reactors are not credible,” it added.

The GE-Hitachi Prism reactor has come out of the US Department of Energy’s integral fast reactor programme, which was itself abandoned by President Bill Clinton in 1994, just before Britain abandoned its own fast-reactor programme.

However, GE-Hitachi has convinced the NDA that there are grounds for believing that it may be possible to build a pair of fast-reactors at Sellafield that can deal directly with the waste plutonium, rather than the more elaborate method of converting it first into Mox fuel that would then be burned in conventional nuclear reactors.

Daniel Roderick, senior vice president of GE Hitachi, said that if given the go-ahead the company will form a consortium that will build and operate the plant at no up-front cost to the UK taxpayer.

“We will only charge for each kilogram or tonne of plutonium we dispose of. We’re not going to build a several billion pound plant that doesn’t work,” Mr Roderick said.

The Prism fast reactor would be licensed and built within 10 years of given the go-ahead and it could deal with all the plutonium on a “once-through” basis within five years, he said.

A Mox plant would by comparison be subsidised by the UK taxpayer and would take far longer to build and will almost certainly not be built to budget, given the example of the French-built Mox plant in the US which is nearly ten times over budget and many years over schedule, Mr Roderick said.

It is believed that Professor David MacKay, chief scientist at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, has been persuaded of the merits of building a fast-reactor at Sellafield.

“The more people we’ve educated on this, the more support we’re seeing,” Mr Roderick said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Nursery Nurse

£8 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse The Nursery Nurse wi...

Primary Supply Teachers Required

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: primary teacher Hertfordshire

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on