A previously discounted proposal to use a fast reactor to deal with the United Kingdom’s plutonium stockpile continues to gain credibility.The Independent reported Tuesday that the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has greenlighted a feasibility study with GE-Hitachi on using its Prism small modular reactor design. The plant could be built in ten years, a GEH executive said, and would operate at no upfront cost, instead billing the British government based on the amount of plutonium burned.After losing a key customer in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the UK closed the MOX production plant helping to dispose of the country’s 102-tonne plutonium stockpile. The country’s original fast-reactor program at Dounreay ended in the 1990s, with a contract announced this week for its decommissioning. NDA had taken building a new fast reactor off the table in favor of building a second MOX plant, but it indicated a willingness to reconsider after GEH suggested its technology was at a further stage in development than originally thought.
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GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Signs MOU Agreement with National Nuclear Laboratory to Work on Tackling UK Plutonium Stockpile
WORKINGTON, U.K.—April 4, 2012—With the U.K. government looking at ways to address its growing stockpile of civil plutonium, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) today signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with National Nuclear Laboratory Ltd. (NNL). NNL will provide expert technical input to the potential U.K. deployment of GEH’s innovative PRISM reactor, which would be specifically designed to disposition the U.K.’s plutonium while generating 600 megawatts of low-carbon electricity.
GEH also spent the day meeting with a number of skilled nuclear workers in West Cumbria to learn how they could work with GEH on PRISM’s potential deployment.
The country is currently storing more than 87 metric tons (and growing) of plutonium at the Sellafield nuclear complex in West Cumbria, England. The U.K. government confirmed its intention to reuse this plutonium in December 2011, declaring that it “remains open to any alternative proposals for plutonium management that offer better value to the U.K. taxpayer.” The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) recently announced in February 2012 that it is seeking proposals for alternative approaches to manage the U.K.’s plutonium stockpile.
“We are excited for the potential opportunity to utilize the expertise of NNL and help the U.K. continue to take a leadership role in the reuse of plutonium,” said Danny Roderick, senior vice president of new plant projects for GEH. “We believe that PRISM is the best way to manage the U.K.’s plutonium stockpile efficiently, securely and safely while generating low-carbon electricity at the same time.”
“With our recognized technical capability and long experience in fuel cycle analysis, we are pleased that GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has looked to NNL to provide independent and authoritative input to the potential U.K. application of a PRISM reactor,” said Paul Howarth, managing director of NNL, which operates a number of research facilities in the U.K. including the flagship Central Laboratory on the Sellafield site. “We look forward to working with GEH as they develop their approach to helping the U.K. address its plutonium legacy.”
Today, GEH, along with leading U.K. engineering firms Costain, Arup and Pöyry, (GEH’s “CAP Alliance” partners), met face-to-face with the number of highly talented and experienced nuclear sector suppliers in West Cumbria at the ENERGUS centre in Lillyhall, Workington. GEH is committed, to the greatest extent possible, to utilizing U.K. companies and workers. Currently, General Electric Company, one of GEH’s parents, has approximately 18,000 U.K. employees countrywide.
Should PRISM be approved for construction, in addition to creating about 900 permanent jobs and thousands of expected indirect jobs for the local community, this multibillion-pound investment would stand to create a range of opportunities for suppliers while continuing to develop the country’s nuclear energy skills base and reaffirming Cumbria’s position of nuclear excellence with “Britain’s energy coast.”
GEH is convinced that its PRISM technology provides an innovative solution to the objectives set forth by the NDA—the quickest disposal of plutonium at the best value—while providing substantial environmental and economic benefits. GEH is currently working closely with the U.K. government, including NDA, to detail why it believes PRISM technology is the best choice for the U.K. taxpayer.