Market News

 April 04, 2012
GE Hitachi brings in nuclear waste experts to aid Sellafield push

 A plan to reuse the UK's enormous stockpile of plutonium waste as fuel for a new nuclear power station at Sellafield moved a step closer today, after GE Hitatchi (GEH) signed an agreement with the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).

Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) NNL will provide "expert technical input" to support the proposed deployment of GEH's PRISM reactor, which the company calculates could process practically all of the 87 metric tonnes of plutonium stored at Sellafield.

The government confirmed in December it wanted to reuse what is the world's biggest non-military deposit of radioactive waste.

GEH is leading efforts to develop a plan for reusing the material and it was reported earlier this week that the company has signed a feasibility study with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to investigate the possibility of using the waste to fuel a new plant on site.

Any new project would represent a sizeable U-turn, after the NDA reportedly rejected the technology as being immature earlier this year.

As well as generating around 600MW of low carbon electricity, GEH says the process would also prove cheaper than the alternative option of converting the plutonium into mixed oxide (Mox) fuel that can be used in conventional nuclear reactors. The company said that costs would be kept low as the new plant would be funded by a GEH-run consortium rather than subsidised by UK taxpayers. The first UK-based Mox plant at Sellafield closed last year after posting huge losses.

"We are excited for the potential opportunity to utilise the expertise of NNL and help the UK continue to take a leadership role in the reuse of plutonium," said Danny Roderick, senior vice president of new plant projects for GEH.

"We believe that PRISM is the best way to manage the UK's plutonium stockpile efficiently, securely, and safely while generating low-carbon electricity at the same time."

The UK government wants to build 16GW of new nuclear capacity by 2025 to replacing aging nuclear stations.

However, its plans suffered a major blow last week when E.On and RWE pulled out of plans to build 6GW of new nuclear capacity.

This followed SSE's exit from nuclear earlier in the year, which leaves EDF as the only member of the Big Six energy companies currently pursuing plans to build new reactors.