Britain Agrees to Take Control of German, Swedish Plutonium

Posted by Michelle Howard
Thursday, July 03, 2014

Britain on Thursday said it had reached a deal to take ownership of almost a tonne of foreign-owned plutonium now stored on British soil, as the government eyes turning spent nuclear waste into fuel for its next generation of nuclear plants.

The government is seeking control of foreign-owned plutonium amongst a 123-tonne stockpile kept in northern England - the largest such civilian stockpile in the world - as it looks at ways to recycle the nuclear byproduct into fuel that could power reactors over the coming decades.

Plutonium also serves as one of the two major ingredients in nuclear bombs, along with highly enriched uranium.

In a written statement to parliament, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said Britain would take ownership of 800 kilograms of material from a Swedish utility firm and 140 kg from a German research organization.

Both stocks are already kept in Britain and no more plutonium would be brought into the country.

Fallon said the deal was beneficial because it would allow the government to exert more national control over the future of plutonium stockpiles on British soil.

Britain took charge of nearly three tonnes of German, Dutch and French plutonium in a deal last year.

The terms of the latest deal and the parties involved were subject to confidentiality agreements and not disclosed, the energy ministry said.

Almost all the 123 tonnes of plutonium in Britain is stored in northern England at the Sellafield reprocessing plant. In December last year, 23.4 tonnes of that stockpile was foreign owned, data from the Office for Nuclear Regulation showed.

In 2011 the government stated that it wanted to convert plutonium - a radioactive byproduct that is found in used or spent nuclear fuel when it is removed from a reactor - into so-called "MOX" fuel. That fuel could then be used by nuclear reactors due to come online in the 2020s.

However, two other reprocessing options are now also under consideration and a final recommendation from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is one or two years away, an NDA spokesperson said.

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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