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Sellafield MOX plant closure is hasty reaction to impact of Fukushima

Sellafield MOX plant closure is hasty reaction to impact of Fukushima

Nuclear union Prospect has expressed dismay at the government’s decision to close Sellafield’s MOX plant, saying the decision was ill-conceived and short-sighted.

Prospect National Secretary Mike Graham said: “We are dismayed at the way this announcement has been made, without consultation with the unions, and without properly considering the way forward after its closure.”

The plant, which employs about 800 people, takes plutonium that has been reprocessed from spent nuclear fuel (at Sellafield’s THORP plant), and recycles it into ‘mixed oxide fuel,’ which can be reused to fuel nuclear reactors.

Graham acknowledged that there have been problems with the existing MOX plant in the past. “However, in recent months performance has been at its best so far, with all targets being met,” he added. “The government’s energy policy national statements and energy market reform white paper mean that new nuclear build in the UK is fast becoming a reality.

“Prospect has always argued that if the existing MOX plant were to be closed, it should only be on condition that a new and more efficient plant is built at Sellafield, which could help to both reduce Britain’s civilian plutonium stockpile and fuel its new reactors.

“Prospect is working closely with the company to help communicate the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s decision to the workforce and to formulate a plan to facilitate the closure in a safe and orderly way.”

The union is also pushing to ensure every member affected is provided with alternative employment. Graham said: “It would be madness to lose their specialist skills at this time of expansion, especially as an announcement regarding a new MOX plant is overdue. That is why we are pushing for these people to be redeployed into the rest of the Sellafield site.

“We will also continue to press the point that recycling fuel makes commercial sense in the long term, and we are seeking an urgent meeting with the Energy Minister Charles Hendry to discuss future options.”

The closure decision was thought to have been influenced by the lack of funding available from Japanese government contracts, following the earthquake and tsunami that shut down the Fukushima 1 nuclear reactor in March.

But Graham condemned this as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. Earlier this year a government consultation document on the future of Britain’s civil plutonium stocks said that while there are considerable costs involved, reusing plutonium as MOX fuel is ‘a more mature option’ than simply storing it as waste, which also incurs costs without any commercial return.

And in April a report by the government’s former chief scientific officer Professor David King came out in favour of recycing spent fuel and said building a new MOX plant could create commercial opportunities.

King also warned that the structure of the UK nuclear industry to date has been designed to address the rundown of nuclear power, but that it was not well suited to the changed situation, involving new nuclear build.

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