Royal Society denies bias over Sellafield report

The plant was to produce 120 tonnes of fuel a year but only managed a 10th of this in its lifetime

Britain's top scientific organisation has backed a controversial proposal to build a second multibillion-pound nuclear fuel plant at Sellafield in Cumbria to deal with the UK's enormous stockpile of civil plutonium, but it has done so without addressing either the cost or the failures of an existing fuel plant, which had to be closed this year.

A Royal Society report says another mixed oxide (Mox) fuel plant at Sellafield is the only way of dealing with the plutonium stockpile at the site, but it pointedly fails to discuss either the costs of the new plant or the reasons why the existing Sellafield Mox plant has been such a disaster.

Critics say that the society's inquiry into the nuclear fuel cycle has been heavily influenced by the vested interests of the nuclear industry. One of the experts on the report's working group, Dr Christine Brown, was a key figure at Sellafield when British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) was building its Mox plant.

Dr Brown joined Sellafield in 1995 to work on the new plant, designed to produce 120 tonnes of Mox fuel a year but only managed about a tenth of this in its entire lifetime – at a total cost to the UK taxpayer of £1.3bn.

The report, Fuel Cycle Stewardship in a Nuclear Renaissance, highlights a French Mox fuel plant at Marcoule that does perform efficiently, saying Britain could learn much from its design. But the report makes no mention of the problems at a US Mox plant being built at Savannah River in South Carolina, with French help, which is behind schedule and five times over budget.

Asked by The Independent why his report fails to discuss the problems of the existing Mox plants at Sellafield and Savannah River, Professor Roger Cashmore, chairman of the Royal Society's working group, said the problems were not relevant to his inquiry. He said: "That wasn't what we were interested in. We were interested in taking things forward. We didn't address the issue of whether Mox plants around the world were satisfactory or had cost overruns as we felt it was not within our remit."

The Sellafield Mox plant was designed to turn foreign-owned spent fuel into Mox fuel for export, mainly to Japan. However, soon after the plant was opened in 2002, its design flaws became obvious. The Fukushima disaster in March this year led to a suspension of Mox fuel shipments to Japan from Europe and eventually forced the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is now in charge of Sellafield, to close the Mox plant.

Asked to explain why the Mox plant failed, Dr Brown said: "My job was to make sure that the fuel performed well. However, trying to transfer that specific part of the manufacturing process and make a plant which was up to modern-day standards has proved to be quite difficult. I'm terribly disappointed, but the decision [to close the plant] is correct, in that we've given the SMP quite some time to meet the expectations of the original design.

"It is clear we were not going to do that in the near future," she said.

Dr Brown said that two new nuclear reactors licensed to burn Mox fuel could deal with Britain's plutonium stockpile within a period of 50 or 60 years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test