Re-use of plutonium as MOX fuel

The NDA is seeking proposals on potential alternative approaches for managing the UK’s plutonium stocks alongside providing support to the Government as it progresses its preferred policy of converting the material into Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX) for reactors. 

Both the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the NDA have already held extensive public consultations over possible management solutions for the existing civil stocks of plutonium, which have accumulated since the 1950s, largely from the reprocessing of spent fuel at Sellafield , and are currently held in secure storage pending the development of a long-term solution. More than 100 responses were received to the DECC consultations.

The responses were considered in detail and DECC subsequently set out its preferred policy of re-using plutonium as MOX in December last year. However, government remained open to considering other options if they can offer better value or less risk, and NDA is therefore seeking to gather more data on other options.

The NDA and DECC are currently in discussions with various parties about re-using the plutonium as MOX and, in addition, are seeking approaches from third parties to review whether alternative technologies may represent credible options.

NDA Strategy Director Adrian Simper said: “We are currently working with the Government to establish that re-using plutonium as MOX fuel remains the best option and wish to assess whether any other parties are able to propose credible alternatives.”

Expressions of interest must be received by 31 March 2012.

Notice: Invitation to express interest in development and delivery of credible altervative proposals

As part of the commitment to gather more data on all options for the lifecycle management of plutonium, this notice invites parties, who believe they can develop and deliver a credible alternative proposal to re-use as MOX fuel, to approach NDA. An initial discussion with respondents will take place to establish if the alternative proposal could represent a credible option to consider alongside the Government’s preferred policy position, re-use as MOX fuel. If NDA consider that the proposal has merit then further detailed engagement will take place, though NDA is under no obligation to progress any alternative proposals.

Background

On 1 December 2011 Government set out its preferred policy for the long-term management of the UK’s existing civil plutonium stocks. In summary it stated:

“Following a public consultation, Government has confirmed that it will pursue a policy based on the preliminary view that re-use of plutonium as MOX fuel is the best available option to manage UK plutonium stocks. Any remaining plutonium that cannot be converted into MOX will be immobilised and treated as waste for disposal.

“While converting the plutonium into MOX is the most credible and technologically mature option, the Government remains open to any alternative proposals for plutonium management that offer better value or less risk to the taxpayer and will seek to gather more data on all options.”

This announcement followed the publication of the NDA’s most recent version of its Credible Options Study in February 2011 which coincided with the launch of the UK Governments’ Consultation on the management of the UK’s Plutonium Stocks. In the study, NDA defined credible options as:

” ..those options which could potentially be accomplished safely, while complying with the law, and using technology which is either available or capable of being developed within the foreseeable future, and which allow decisions to be made on a timescale that is commensurate with any strategic imperatives … for plutonium, the timescale is regarded as around 25 years.”

Next Steps

Further work is now being undertaken by the NDA, in conjunction with DECC, on the re-use of plutonium as MOX fuel. To support this work, we are engaging with several parties around the reuse of plutonium as MOX fuel.

As part of the commitment to gather more information on all options, we will be undertaking a review, on behalf of the government, to ensure that we continue to consider emerging solutions. We believe that the rationale used previously to identify and determine options as not credible remains valid though we are seeking to establish whether there are any parties who would be interested in providing details of alternative proposals that could meet our credibility definition.

We are therefore calling for parties who believe they have an approach which could represent a credible option to provide us with more detailed information on their proposals. These alternative proposals must deliver a full lifecycle management option.

NDA will undertake an initial discussion to establish if, in its opinion, the proposal could represent a credible alternative to the preferred policy. As part of this discussion, NDA will require information as regards the capability of the organisation proposing the solution. If NDA considers there is merit in progressing the proposal, then further detailed discussions will take place.

In order for NDA to assess credibility at the conclusion of this process, the following information would need to be provided:

  • A comprehensive outline of the lifecycle plutonium management option, including
    • key assumptions
    • licensability of facilities
    • full lifecycle management plan for
      • waste from the manufacture of fuel and
      • spent fuel including disposability
    • any commercial structures proposed
  • A comprehensive process flowsheet
  • Cost data for process blocks and associated uncertainty
  • Technical maturity assessed using the Technology Readiness Level approach
  • Lead time for implementation

NDA is under no obligation to progress alternative proposals at any point in this process.

If you believe you have an alternative proposal for a full lifecycle management option for plutonium, which is capable of being credibly developed and delivered, please register your interest with the NDA by sending an email to strategy@nda.gov.uk on or before 31 March 2012. In the event that NDA chooses to progress an alternative proposal, the information highlighted above would need to be provided within 3-4 months, subject to agreement.