The Nuclear Decommissionary Authority (NDA) is considering the future of Cumbria's Sellafield mixed-oxide or Mox production plant (SMP), plagued by problems since it opened 10 years ago.
There are fears the poorly performing SMP could close, with the loss of 2000 jobs, causing embarrassment for the government at a time when it is trying to persuade sceptics a new generation of atomic plants can be delivered on time and budget. The SMP was intended to turn plutonium and uranium recovered from used nuclear fuel into usable fuel for overseas nuclear reactors. A Mox demonstration complex was opened in 1998, but the plant was hit by a scandal in 1999 involving quality control and falsified safety data; leading to the resignation of John Taylor, chief executive of BNFL.
Industry figures have suggested the closure of the SMP would make it likely a 100-tonne stockpile of radioactive plutonium will be stored until the whole Sellafield site is shut, rather than being turned in to new fuel. The NDA's Plutonium Topic Strategy states: "NDA has reviewed SMP and does not believe it provides either the capacity or longevity to be used for the UK civil stockpile and the recycle options that NDA has considered [assuming] that plutonium is either sold direct or that Mox is fabricated in a new plant. There may be an opportunity to utilise the existing plant in a meaningful manner for the low specification Mox option."
The NDA confirmed the future of the plant is under review, but emphasised no decision had been made.