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Japan to the Rescue of Sellafield MOX Plant

On May 12, the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced an agreement by which Japan would throw a lifeline to the UK's troubled Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP). SMP was originally designed to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel per year, but has only managed a total of a little over 10 tonnes in 8 years of operation.

According to NDA's web site, "Agreement has now been reached between the NDA and the Japanese Utilities on an overall framework for future fabrication of MOX fuel in SMP....We have reached agreement with the Japanese Utilities that will support significant engineering changes to the plant."

Ten Japanese electric power companies shipped a total of 2,864 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel to Sellafield for reprocessing and, at the end of 2009, 11.5 tons of Japanese-owned fissile plutonium was stored in the UK. This is all supposed to be returned to Japan as MOX fuel. However, due to the problems with the operation of SMP, it was thought that some of the plutonium currently stored in the UK might be sent to France for fabrication into MOX fuel at Areva's Melox Plant. Under the new agreement, if Japanese funded changes can solve SMP's problems, this will not be necessary.

The first Japanese company to have MOX fuel fabricated at SMP will be Chubu Electric, subcontracted via Global Nuclear Fuel Japan. Asahi Shimbun reported on May 13 that fabrication would begin in about 2012. However, before that can happen, an order for a German utility must be completed and engineering changes have to be made.

If history is anything to go by, the deal is a long way from being done.

Philip White (NIT Editor)

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