Phasing out nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield in 2016

The GMB union is urging the UK government to follow the lead set by China and expand nuclear reprocessing, potentially creating employment at Sellafield. The site’s Magnox reprocessing plant is due to close in 2016 and the more modern Thorp facility by 2020.


In contrast, the Chinese state media has reported that the country is embarking on a 10-fold expansion in nuclear-generating capacity, made possible by reprocessing. Chinese scientists claim to have developed reprocessing technology similar to that at Sellafield, which extracts plutonium and uranium from spent fuel to be used again. This will extend the life of China’s uranium reserves from around 70 years to at least 3,000 years. Gary Smith, GMB national secretary for energy, said: “In view of what the Chinese are doing, phasing out nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield is absolutely crazy.
“This announcement by China should give the British Government cause to focus on the importance and benefits of reprocessing nuclear fuel.”

China now has 13 operating reactors and has 26 more under construction. Mr Smith added: “In a low-carbon economy, nuclear is the fuel of the future.

“It is essential the UK supports the reprocessing industry.
“Apart from bringing in income for the UK, we know nuclear fuel is 97 per cent recyclable via reprocessing.
“The people of the UK need to be told clearly that Sellafield is a huge asset.
“There is plutonium at Sellafield that can be made into fuel, which can then be reprocessed and recycled.
“There is enough plutonium at Sellafield to provide a secure source of enough nuclear fuel to power homes and business for generations.”

Sellafield’s Magnox reprocessing plant deals with metal fuel from first-generation nuclear reactors such as the old Calder Hall power station at Sellafield and Chapelcross near Annan.  Thorp handles oxide fuels from British advanced-gas-cooled reactors, such as Heysham in Lancashire, and light-water reactors around the world.

The Magnox plant is currently out of action but is expected to resume operations soon.  In the last financial year it reprocessed 450 tonnes of spent fuel while Thorp handled 217 tonnes.
Source: News and Star

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