Image courtesy of markwgallagher
"We can bury our reactor waste or we can treat it and then use it as free fuel for life. It's a no-brainer." - Sir David King, Chief Science Adviser
As you may well imagine, King's statement in support of a plan backed by Britain's nuclear industry to build a fuel processing plant at Sellafield has sparked a fair bit of controversy - no doubt that last throwaway sentence didn't exactly help matters either. The plant would convert the country's 60,000 tons of nuclear waste into reactor fuel, which could then be used to supply the U.K.'s electricity needs - close to 60% until 2060.
Already several environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, have vigorously protested the proposed scheme, alleging it would create a "plutonium economy" that would see the transport of large amounts of nuclear fuel around the country. Moreover, they argue that it would cost a pretty penny - several billion pounds - and serve as nothing more than a glorified subsidy to the nuclear industry; better to fund renewable energy research, they claim. Even the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which backs the plan, admits it could impose several "downside" economic costs.Despite these challenges, King has vowed to move ahead full steam, having already persuaded the Brown government to support a new nuclear reactor building program that will be put into law next year. Dismissing the concerns of several experts, who expressed doubts about the U.K.'s long-term supply of uranium (a critical component for reactors to produce fuel), King said there would be more than enough to supply the plant until 2060.
To produce fuel, Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant will extract plutonium and uranium from the nuclear waste and convert it into an intermediate form, known as "mox," or mixed oxide fuel. The mox would then be processed in a separate plant to yield the necessary fuel rods and pellets; these would then be burned in what are known as fast breeder reactors to produce usable energy.
Whether or not this plan does move forward in the new year as indicated by King, this likely won't be the last we'll hear of it - or similar schemes.
Via ::Guardian Unlimited: Nuclear waste could power Britain (news website)