NDA endorses continued operation of SMP

28 October 2009

Improvements in plant performance following the takeover of operations by a new 'parent body organization', has led the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to conclude that the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) should continue operating.


SMP (Sellafield Ltd)
The SMP plant (Image: Sellafield Ltd)
The plant makes mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel assemblies for international customers using uranium and plutonium recovered from reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. Meant to partner the Thorp reprocessing plant, it began operation in 2001 but has never performed as hoped. Now it appears more rapid improvement may be taking place.


The progress is in part down to a four-phase process of engagement of Sellafield teams with Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of Washington International Holdings, Amec and Areva. The companies became Sellafield's 'parent body' in November 2008 as part of a contract worth some £1.3 billion ($2.1 billion) per year.


The NDA said that in considering options for the plant, its primary consideration "is to achieve the best value for money for the taxpayer in the future." It added, "In this regard, we have had to consider recent performance, future potential capability and the views of customers."


"Given recent improvements in plant performance and positive discussions with customers the NDA has concluded that, at this stage, the best course of action is the continued operation of SMP in pursuance of completing the current campaign of fuel manufacture," the NDA said in a statement.


The NDA has asked Sellafield Ltd to "continue to deliver the current manufacturing campaign whilst seeking to improve operational performance." It added that International Nuclear Services, the NDA's commercial subsidiary, is "continuing to explore new commercial arrangements that would make the continuing operation of the plant economically acceptable to the NDA in the longer term."


Welcoming the NDA's conclusion, Sellafield Ltd said that it "has worked hard to raise the performance of the plant, meet existing contractual commitments and earn the opportunity of securing a viable long term commercial future for SMP."


It added, "The plant team has performed well over recent months, having recently completed eight fuel assemblies for a European customer. We recognise that there are many challenges ahead, and to secure the future of the plant, we will need to continue to improve our performance."