UK considers options for unreprocessed foreign fuel

04 March 2014

The UK government has launched a public consultation on how it will deal with a small amount of overseas origin used fuel that will remain in the country when reprocessing activities end in 2018.

The UK signed several contracts during the 1970s and 80s for reprocessing overseas origin used fuel at either the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) at Sellafield or in facilities at Dounreay. Thorp has completed almost 95% of its overseas order book with only about 300 tonnes of overseas fuel remaining to be managed before Thorp is expected to close in late 2018. Reprocessing at Dounreay has already ceased.

However, a residual 30 tonnes of fuel - made up of small amounts of prototype fuels, experimental fuels, MOX fuels and some material resulting from research - will remain when Thorp closes. This includes about two tonnes of fuel currently held at Dounreay. These fuels are considered either not economic to reprocess in Thorp before it closes or are no longer able to be reprocessed.

Operating Thorp beyond 2018 solely to manage these residual amounts of fuel would be uneconomic. The option of transporting the fuel to overseas reprocessing facilities has been ruled out as the estimated costs of this would be greater than managing the fuels within the UK and some of the fuels may now not be suitable for transporting overseas.

The consultation launched by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) sets out proposals which would allow the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to store this fuel for subsequent disposal. The NDA would take ownership of the fuel where necessary.

Under the proposal, the NDA will enact "virtual reprocessing", where a radiologically equivalent amount of waste will be allocated and then returned to the customer as if the fuel had been reprocessed. In addition, an equivalent amount of nuclear materials will be allocated to the customer and stored pending agreement on their future management. In some cases, the amounts of allocated waste are "so small that it is neither practical nor cost-effective" to return it.

DECC said this approach "would permit the NDA to close out remaining overseas contracts in a cost-effective and timely way providing more certainty over the future plans for Thorp and the future decommissioning of the Dounreay licensed site."

The consultation will run until 28 May 2014. The government will consider the responses received and then publish its own response, setting out how it intends to proceed.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News