Study finds waste-fuelled nuclear reactor “feasible” for the UK

10 July 2012 The prospect of the UK’s first nuclear reactor running on spent fuel edged closer to reality yesterday with the submission of a feasibility study by developer GE Hitachi (GEH). The next-generation PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular)…

10 July 2012

The prospect of the UK’s first nuclear reactor running on spent fuel edged closer to reality yesterday with the submission of a feasibility study by developer GE Hitachi (GEH).

The next-generation PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular) reactor is one of the solutions the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is looking at to deal with the 100 tonnes of plutonium waste being stored in the country.

The prospect of the UK’s first nuclear reactor running on spent fuel edged closer to reality yesterday with the submission of a feasibility study by developer GE Hitachi (GEH).

The next-generation PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular) reactor is one of the solutions the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is looking at to deal with the 100 tonnes of plutonium waste being stored in the country.

The government has made it known its preferred option is to convert the waste into mixed-oxide fuel (mox) that can be used in standard reactors, despite the fact the UK’s first mox plant closed last year after posting huge losses.

An initial application to build a PRISM reactor at Sellafield in Cumbria, home to over 80 tonnes of plutonium waste, was reportedly rejected in January, with the NDA claiming the technology was years away from being commercially viable.

However, GEH is adamant its reactor offers a more cost effective solution than mox plants and has submitted the 1,000 page feasibility report in an attempt to persuade the NDA to support the proposal.

The report includes a vote of confidence by analysts DBD Ltd, which says that in terms of fuel fabrication, reactor operation, and fuel storage, there are “no fundamental impediments” to licensability in the UK.

GEH adds the reactor would not only generate around 600MW of low carbon electricity, but also be cheaper for UK taxpayers. The company envisages the project would be funded by a private consortium, with the government paying per tonne of plutonium processed, although some public funds are still likely to be needed for construction.

“After reviewing the report, we feel strongly that we have the best, lowest-risk solution to meet the NDA’s and ultimately UK citizens’ needs,” said Danny Roderick, senior vice president of nuclear plant projects at GEH.

“We applaud NDA’s transparency and objectivity in looking at plutonium reuse alternatives and look forward to a detailed analysis of all technologies being considered.”

The NDA is expected to make a recommendation to government by the end of the year, after which officials will select a final proposal.

In related news, the government today appointed Professor Laurence Williams, its former chief inspector of nuclear installations, as Chair of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, an independent body providing advice and scrutiny to the UK and devolved governments.

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