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An epitaph for Sellafield's THORP reprocessing plant – 'Never did what it said on the tin'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE)

A Sellafield Stakeholder committee was recently told that, by the 11th November, THORP would have chopped up (sheared) its last batch of spent fuel, bringing to an end almost a quarter century of operation – a performance described to stakeholders as 'mission completed successfully'.

As has now become customary for such milestone events, THORP's performance is already being eulogised in a way that can be reconciled neither with the plant's 'mission' as clearly defined by its owner and developer British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) nor indeed with the well documented facts on the ground today.

For right up to its opening in 1994, plans for THORP's operations – its mission – were laid out by BNFL through a range of specific and clearly defined performance targets that included not only how much spent fuel would be reprocessed (and at what rate) over specified timescales and how much profit would be made during the first 10 years of operation (the Baseload).

In more general terms BNFL also aired its aspirations of winning new business for THORP and its ability to operate as a 'recycling' plant. Against these projections, it is only right that the success or failure of THORP's mission is judged on whether, in the event, the plant has done 'what it said on the tin' in terms of meeting those BNFL targets and hopes.

Based on the officially published 'annual throughput' figures (tonnes reprocessed per year) collated by CORE since the plant opened in 1994, THORP has failed to meet those operational targets and schedules by a country mile. Aided and abetted by the periodic failings of associated 'support' facilities such as the High Level Waste Evaporators, THORP's major operational, recycling and potential financial shortcomings, as highlighted below, represent the polar opposite of a 'mission completed successfully'.

'THORP will reprocess 7000 tonnes of fuel in the first 10 years of operation at a rate of 1000 tonnes per year'

Just 5045 tonnes were reprocessed in the first 10 years of operation – the 7000 tonnes only being completed on 4th December 2012 – over nine years late. Not once during the Baseload period (1994-2003) was the throughput rate of 1000 tonnes per year achieved.

'THORP will reprocess 800 tonnes per year during the Post-Baseload period (2004 onwards)'

Whilst the Baseload performance (above) strongly suggested that achieving this rate was highly improbable if not impossible, any chance was finally dashed by THORP's 2005 accident whose irreparable damage slashed the plant's future throughput rate by some 50%. Since its restart in 2007 THORP has averaged 306 tonnes per year. [In 2005, a large leak of a highly radioactive solution was detected ‒ the leak began in July 2004 and went undetected for nine months. British Nuclear Group was convicted for breaches of health and safety regulations and fined £500,000, and the incident was rated Level 3 on the INES scale.]

'Additional business for THORP is expected to be secured from overseas customers'.

No such business was ever secured. Conversely, over 850 tonnes of business was lost when, under a revised Atomic Law, German utilities chose – for economic and environmental reasons – to store their fuel in Germany rather than send it to THORP for reprocessing.

On its opening in 1994, THORP had secured 10,229 tonnes of reprocessing business from the UK, Japan and six European countries. On its closure in 2018 the plant will have reprocessed a total of just 9,300 tonnes 'with all contracts completed'.

'Thorp: a world leading facility for the recycling of used nuclear fuel'

THORP was not designed to recycle spent fuel but to recover materials for subsequent re-use. Of these, the most contentious is plutonium – with a majority of the estimated 56 tonnes recovered by THORP now languishing unused in the Sellafield stockpile, including plutonium 'flag-swapped' to UK ownership by overseas customers who have no use for it.

White elephant

CORE's spokesman Martin Forwood said: "This technically complex 'first of a kind' facility, facing economic and contract doubts from day one, was always going to struggle to meet BNFL targets. It is not surprising that, with its failures, a plant officially dubbed as 'the jewel in Sellafield's crown' should have morphed so quickly into the white elephant expected by many. To assess it as a success would be deceitful in the extreme and represent 'Trumpery' at its most disingenuous."

That THORP was indeed to lose some overseas contracts will have come as no surprise to BNFL whose Director Alan Johnson warned in 1989 (five years before the plant opened) that the global change in attitude to reprocessing posed a very real threat to THORP and that "many of our major customers would love to cancel their contracts" (Channel 4 TV Documentary, 'Inside Sellafield').

Those customers, some of whom had already cancelled contracts in 1995 (and were to cancel more later), vented their frustrations on THORP at a meeting with BNFL in 2000 when they stated that 'your customers are losing confidence in BNFL's technical ability. This loss of confidence was enhanced by BNFL's apparent inability to reprocess our fuel within the agreed baseload period'. (Minutes of meeting held at Heathrow on 18th September 2000.).

The loss of major overseas business (at least 850 tonnes worth) will have impacted on THORP's financial viability. BNFL's claim of a £500 million profit being earned over the first 10-year Baseload period was based on a forecast income of £6 billion and (with decommissioning costs accounted for) operational costs of £5.5 billion. The latter have inevitably escalated as a result of the numerous accidents, equipment failures, unplanned events and unscheduled outages suffered by THORP during those first 10 years.

Under certain contracts, many such costs could not be foisted upon customers. In addition, the plant's decommissioning cost – put by BNFL in 1990 at an 'undiscounted' £700 million – has ballooned today to an 'undiscounted' £3.7 billion (NDA FoI response to CORE, 29 Oct 2018), thus raising further major doubts about THORP's profitability.

Such financial doubts are not new and were raised in the early days of THORP's operation by ex-BNFL Director Harold Bolter who, having played a major role in THORP's development and opening, was later to express the views that: "A business that once looked a sure-fire winner is beginning to look increasingly vulnerable … BNFL's figures underpinning the plant's economic case have turned out to be incorrect in several important respects … if the highly complex plant fails to operate to its projected standard, it will become a huge financial drain on the nation." [Harold Bolter 'Inside Sellafield' published 1996].

Accounts unpublished

That 'the highly complex plant failed to operate to its projected standard' as set by BNFL is beyond doubt. The full impact of these failures on THORP's profitability will however only be determined by the publication of a final 'set of accounts' for the plant. To date, no such figures have been published since the plant opened in 1994 – as confirmed by a Government response to a parliamentary question in 2005 that 'BNFL has never separated the accounts for the THORP plant from other areas'.

Conveniently for those determined to continue to overstate THORP's viability, the final account is going to be a long time in coming for, in its FoI response to CORE, the NDA confirms that it "does not intend to make the financial information available at this time and have no plans for future publication. Ongoing commercial contracts make this information commercially sensitive". In other words, the world and his dog must wait perhaps until the 2070s when, for example, the contracted long-term storage of some 5000 tonnes of UK's AGR fuel is expected to end with its final disposal – or the last kilogram of plutonium is finally put out of harm's way for good.

CORE's Martin Forwood added: "That THORP's finances continue to be withheld from public scrutiny – despite its reprocessing days now being over – will suggest to many that, as well as failing to meet operational targets, the plant is already staring a negative financial outcome in the face. While ardent supporters will always find positives for THORP, its abject failure to meet BNFL's mission objectives cannot be one of them. We wait with interest to see the extent of verbal gymnastics employed by Government, NDA, Sellafield Ltd and others to divert attention from the commercial failures of what was once referred to by the industry as a flagship reprocessing plant."

Reprinted from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment website, 12 Nov 2018,

The problems with Japan's plutonium: What are they and how do we deal with them?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Caitlin Stronell ‒ Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Japan

The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) recently organized a seminar with guest speaker Prof. Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist from Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, presenting alternative ways to dispose of spent fuel instead of reprocessing, as well as options for disposal of separated plutonium. After this presentation of technical solutions, a panel discussion took place. Prof. Eiji Oguma, a historical sociologist from Keio University's Faculty of Policy Management and a well-known commentator on the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement in Japan, pointed out the political barriers that must be overcome if any of these technical solutions were to be actually implemented, no matter how much more reasonable they may seem from economic and safety perspectives. CNIC's General Secretary, Hajime Matsukubo was also on the panel and brought into the discussion the international implications of Japan's plutonium policy including the US-Japan Nuclear Agreement.

Prof. von Hippel explained that plutonium disposal is a global problem, with more than half of the existent separated plutonium being produced as a result of civilian reprocessing, the rest produced for military purposes. Disposing of the plutonium that had been produced for weapons during the cold war has been a huge headache for the United States with planned disposal by burning it as MOX fuel in commercial reactors proving hugely expensive.

America has all but abandoned its half-built MOX plant and is now looking towards the 'dilute and dispose' option. This process would use glove boxes to mix 300 grams of plutonium oxide into a can of 'star dust' (a secret ingredient from which plutonium would be difficult to separate again). This can would then be placed in a plastic bag and another 'outer blend can.'

Another way of immobilizing plutonium is the Hot Isostatic Pressing method, which is being developed in the UK and utilizes radiation-resistant, low-solubility ceramic. After plutonium has been immobilized, it is safer to bury it underground than keep it on the surface and Prof. von Hippel mentioned the deep borehole disposal method which uses techniques developed for drilling oil and geothermal wells that can bore five kilometers into the earth. In the US, however, plans for a demonstration project of this method of radioactive waste disposal were rejected by local governments.

Prof. von Hippel stressed that the main lesson for Japan is that separated plutonium is extremely difficult to dispose of and that it is definitely better not to separate any more than is already stockpiled. Instead of sending spent fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants to Rokkasho for reprocessing, it would be safer and much cheaper and more efficient to set up dry cask storage for the spent fuel onsite at the plant. Prof. von Hippel showed us successful examples of this method in the US and suggested that there were moves in this direction in Japan as well.

Prof. von Hippel's detailed technical solutions were very convincing. Yet despite the dangers of holding such a large plutonium stockpile (47 metric tons, enough for approximately 6,000 nuclear weapons), despite the massive costs involved and despite having no concrete viable plans as to how to actually use the separated plutonium, official Japanese government policy is to continue to separate even more plutonium at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which is currently due to commence operations in 2021.

In the panel discussion which followed Prof. von Hippel's presentation, Prof. Oguma agreed that reprocessing was most certainly problematic, but, he pointed out, it will be extremely difficult to just put up onsite storage of spent fuel, no matter how reasonable a technical solution it is. Political consent must be gained from the people in communities, which will not just be hosting the nuclear power plant, but will be asked to store its radioactive waste as well. As Prof. Oguma pointed out, especially post-Fukushima Daiichi, no one trusts the Japanese Government's nuclear policy and the likelihood that they will agree to yet another imposition that can be perceived to be long-term and dangerous, is very low.

Much of the Japanese public also believes that onsite storage is merely an excuse for the nuclear industry to keep afloat. If spent fuel pools fill up, utilities will not be able to operate their plants. For many activists this is one way of closing them down, which is their main aim. Prof. Oguma argued that a minimum requirement for any form of political consent to onsite storage would be a clear commitment by the government to phase out all nuclear power by a fixed date, so that the final amount of waste can be determined and will not just keep growing, along with the burden on local people. 

This is a significant difference in perspective. Prof. von Hippel's main aim is to stop reprocessing and reduce stocks of separated plutonium, even if nuclear power generation continues, but Prof. Oguma claims that without an overall reassessment of the entire nuclear power policy it will be impossible to gain political consent for Prof. von Hippel's proposed onsite storage.

The economics is not as straightforward as it sounds either. While it is undoubtedly cheaper, in a purely mathematical sense, to simply dispose of spent fuel as waste, instead of reprocessing it and fabricating MOX fuel, the accounting systems of utilities make the more efficient alternative of direct disposal very difficult. At the moment, spent fuel is counted as an asset on utility balance sheets under the premise that it will become MOX fuel. If reprocessing is officially abandoned, all of the spent fuel 'assets' will become 'liabilities' and many utilities will be facing possible bankruptcy.

Prof. Oguma suggested that the only way to overcome all these political and economic barriers is for the government to disclose all information on nuclear power and reprocessing and to conduct an open public debate on how to proceed. If a public consensus is reached, based on all the scientific, technical and economic data available, then reprocessing should be stopped.

CNIC's Hajime Matsukubo pointed out that the Japanese government's accountability crisis was not just domestic, but international. Building up such large stocks of plutonium at huge cost and with no credible purpose inevitably makes neighboring countries suspect Japan's intentions. Indeed documents recently revealed show that the present Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long been an advocate of Japan becoming a nuclear weapons state. Japan's opposition to President Obama's proposal that the US adopt a no first-use of nuclear weapons policy, was reported in the Japanese media. Thus Japan's credibility as a strong advocator of non-proliferation is already failing and the plan to separate even more plutonium at Rokkasho could easily provoke a regional nuclear arms race, destabilizing the region, just as hopes rise that the situation in North Korea may improve.

Mr. Matsukubo also pointed out that Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state that is permitted to separate plutonium under the US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation (123) Agreement. This creates double standards which weaken the entire global non-proliferation regime. For example, Saudi Arabia is negotiating a 123 Agreement with the US and demands that it also be allowed to reprocess spent fuel 'like Japan.'

For all of the above safety, economic and non-proliferation reasons, it would seem that there is plenty of ammunition for the movement against reprocessing. Indeed, Mr. Matsukubo said that in many ways it should be easier to stop reprocessing than stop nuclear power generation. Why hasn't this happened? As well as the difficulties mentioned by Prof. Oguma, there is also the factor that the movement against reprocessing in Japan has not been as strong as the movement against nuclear power. Reprocessing seems like a more convoluted, more removed issue, perhaps difficult for people to grasp and focus on.

All speakers agreed that the movement against reprocessing must be strengthened. The first thing that must be done to achieve this is to raise awareness and understanding regarding this issue within the broader anti-nuclear movement (both power generation and weapons) and the general public. Providing accurate information on the nuclear fuel cycle in a format that people can understand is the vital first step. As many people as possible must be informed about the costs, the dangers and the alternatives. The movement must be strong enough to demand that governments and utilities disclose all data, engage in an open debate and commit to implementing the consensus which emerges.

Prof. Oguma said that he and many other activists in Japan were committed to conveying the messages of Fukushima to the larger world, and to contributing to international solidarity on ending nuclear power. This also includes understanding how other countries see Japan. The plutonium issue is one that has particularly strong international impacts and implications and by pursuing this present policy the Japanese government is only damaging Japan's international credibility, especially regarding non-proliferation.

The seminar concluded that, whether on an international level or a domestic one, the Japanese government must restore accountability and democracy, it must formulate a responsible nuclear policy that is demonstrably safe, economic and realistic and which has the consent of the people. Viable technical alternatives to reprocessing spent fuel are available but can only be implemented through raising awareness and a change in political will, which as a movement, we must focus on with added strength.

Originally published in Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nuke Info Tokyo, No. 184, May/June 2018,

Japan's plutonium puzzle

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

We reported in Nuclear Monitor in October that Japan has abandoned plans to restart the ill-fated Monju fast reactor.1 That decision calls into question the rationale for Japan's ongoing development of reprocessing (in particular the partially-built Rokkasho plant). In the absence of a fast-reactor rationale, the only use for plutonium separated at Rokkasho would be incorporation into mixed uranium‒plutonium MOX fuel (or, of course, incorporation into nuclear weapons). MOX fuel makes no sense since uranium is plentiful and cheaper than MOX fuel.

Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director of the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center, takes up this story in the latest edition of Nuke Info Tokyo:2

"On September 21, 2016, the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Power, which consists of the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and other relevant cabinet members, adopted a policy entitled "Procedure for Future Fast Reactor Development." This policy included a drastic review of Monju, including its decommissioning, but the continued promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle. Based on the adoption of this policy, the Fast Reactor Development Committee has been established under the initiative of the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The new policy states that the committee is scheduled to reach a conclusion on future development before the end of 2016.

"However, the decision to decommission Monju will not be overturned by the committee. This is because "The committee will not discuss whether Monju should be continued or discontinued" (Toshio Kodama, President of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency). Thus the committee has been set up and will conduct deliberations on the premise that Monju will be decommissioned.

"The specific actions the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Power plans to promote for the nuclear fuel cycle are to restart the experimental reactor Jōyō and to cooperate with fast reactor development in France. The fast reactor Jōyō was first started in 1977, and was operated as a non-breeding reactor after its breeding function was evaluated. Its operation has been suspended since an accident occurred in 2008. It is currently under investigation for compatibility with the new regulatory standards.

"France plans to build a demonstration fast reactor named ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration). The cooperation between Japan and France began in 2014. ... The ASTRID project is still at the basic design stage and it has not yet been decided whether construction will go ahead or not. Koji Okamoto (Professor, Nuclear Professional School, University of Tokyo) who has been a strong advocate of nuclear energy in Japan, clearly states in an article contributed to Energy Review, a Japanese industrial monthly, that the ASTRID project is close to coming off the tracks.

"The new Japanese governmental policy states that one purpose of the ASTRID development is to lower the toxicity of radioactive wastes. However, a study (called the OMEGA Project) to reduce the toxicity of radioactive wastes has been ongoing for more than 30 years in Japan, resulting in no practical achievements. Presenting a new aim does not necessarily mean that practical achievements have become more obtainable.

"The construction cost of ASTRID is estimated to be 570 billion yen, of which Japan has been asked to provide 290 billion yen, according to a media report. However, the construction cost is considered likely to increase, and if Japan continues to cooperate, it is certain that the cost shouldered by Japan will increase each time construction budgets are reviewed.

"Even if cooperation with the French project results in some achievements, Japan has no way of taking advantage of them. After the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPS accident, the demonstration reactor project that would follow Monju has been shelved, and has, in fact, been returned to the drawing board, with even the site for construction as yet undetermined. Under such circumstances, it is unimaginable for an area of this country to accept the construction of a fast reactor, which is far more dangerous than a light-water reactor. If a fast reactor cannot be built, the achievements of the cooperation with France cannot be used. Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy will, it seems, fade away in the not-too-distant future."

Commitment to reprocessing

Yet while the prospects for the development of fast reactor technology in Japan are bleak, there is no sign of any weakening of the commitment to complete and operate the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) established the Nuclear Reprocessing Organization (NRO) on 3 October 2016 to pursue reprocessing under the Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Implementation Act, which was approved on 11 May 2016. The NRO's operations are entrusted to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., funded by obligatory contributions from each electric power utility.3

Perhaps this financial burden imposed on the power utilities will help to slowly unravel the so-far rock-solid commitment to reprocessing.

Abandoning Rokkasho would mean giving up on the sunk costs ‒ the estimated total cost is ¥2.2 trillion (US$18.6 bn; €17.8 bn) and much of that has already been spent ‒ but continuing with Rokkasho means wasting billions more dollars.

If Rokkasho is abandoned, MOX fuel will sooner or later be abandoned. That said, if for some unfathomable reason Tokyo was determined to pursue the use of MOX fuel, existing plutonium stockpiles could be used to produce MOX fuel far into the future ‒ all the more so since it's unlikely that any more than a handful of reactors will be MOX-fuelled in the foreseeable future (of the 26 reactors either approved and under review for restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, only five use MOX fuel).

If fast reactors and reprocessing are abandoned, spent nuclear fuel will be managed as waste ‒ it will be destined for deep underground disposal.

International conference

Given the fluid nature of Japan's policies on fast-reactor R&D ‒ and the potential to unravel the government's illogical commitments to reprocessing and MOX ‒ the Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists are jointly organizing an international conference on 23-24 February next year at the United Nations University, Tokyo.4

The conference will focus on Japan's plutonium policy and the US-Japan 123 Agreement, which provides the basis for Japan's reprocessing program. The present Agreement came into effect in 1988 and is valid for 30 years. Thus it is due to expire in 2018. The Agreement is subject to automatic renewal unless either party notifies that it would like to negotiate changes. While it is likely that the Agreement will be automatically renewed in 2018, CNIC is planning to use this opportunity to draw attention to the serious problems with Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy and the growing plutonium stockpile.

Issues to be considered at the conference include the international repercussions ‒ how do countries in the region react to Japan's massive stockpile of plutonium? How do they see the planned Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which will produce a further eight tons of plutonium per year? What is the real stance of the US on Japan's plutonium policy?

Organizers plan to include speakers from South Korea, China and Taiwan as well as several US experts. Japanese experts and government officials, both bureaucrats and members of parliament, will be invited to speak, as will speakers from local communities in Aomori Prefecture, host of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.

Vitrified high-level nuclear waste shipments

One of the problematic aspects of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policies has been the many shipments of spent fuel, MOX, separated plutonium and high-level nuclear waste between Europe (France and the UK) and Japan. These shipments are slowly coming to an end.

The Pacific Grebe, laden with 132 canisters of vitrified high-level waste (HLW) being returned from the UK, arrived on October 20 at Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd.'s High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Center in Rokkasho-mura.5

From 1969-90 there were more than 160 shipments of spent fuel from Japan to Europe.6 The first shipment of vitrified HLW from France to Japan took place in 1995 and the final shipment was in 2007 ‒ in total, 1,310 HLW canisters were transported. Shipment of vitrified HLW from the UK to Japan commenced early in 2010 and will require about 11 shipments over 8‒10 years to move about 900 canisters. To date, 520 canisters have been sent to Japan from the UK.


1. 5 Oct 2016, 'The slow death of fast reactors', Nuclear Monitor #831,

2. Hideyuki Ban, 5 Dec 2016, 'Planned Monju Decommissioning ‒ The Changed Future of Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 175 (Nov/Dec 2016),

3. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'Nuclear Reprocessing Organization Inaugurated',

4. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'International Conference on US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and Japan's Plutonium Policy 2017',

5. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'Vitrified HLW Returning from UK Arrives in Japan',

6. World Nuclear Association, Nov 2016, 'Japanese Waste and MOX Shipments From Europe',

Sellafield: reprocessing to end in 2018 - or...?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA’s) strategic review has confirmed what has been expected for a while. The Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) in Cumbria, England, will complete it reprocessing contracts (both UK and overseas) and then close. However, signs that the NDA has little confidence in predicting the closure of the magnox reprocessing plant are evident in documents published in July.

THORP's reprocessing contracts should be completed by 2018, at which time THORP would cease reprocessing activities and enter a post-closure and clean out phase prior to decommissioning. Any remaining spent AGR fuel from UK reactors, including any future arisings, will be placed into interim storage pending a decision to dispose of it in a geological disposal facility.

There are, however, a number of ‘performance risks’ that could impact on the delivery of the strategy. In other words, THORP might break down, which would be no great surprise given past experience. The NDA had previously expected to complete reprocessing contracts at THORP in 2010, but operational difficulties both in THORP and in downstream support plant, had delayed the completion of that work. Operational difficulties could result in the reprocessing of less than the currently planned amount of spent fuel by late 2018. The NDA says: “We believe, therefore, we should con-tinue to examine alternative options so that we can manage these risks to the delivery of our strategy.”

The NDA says keeping THORP open significantly beyond 2018 would require a major, multibillion pound investment program with like-for-like replacement of many support facilities with little or no prospect of significant new business and hence a return on this investment.

Magnox reprocessing
If THORP does shut in 2018, it would mean that by then all site reprocessing will have ceased because Magnox reprocessing (at the so called B205 plant) was suppose to end the year before. But serious doubts about this has been raised by NDA itself. The Magnox Operating Plan (MOP9) and accompanying Strategy Position Paper reveal how the NDA has been forced into a ‘pick and mix’ approach because of what it describes as the inconsistent and unpredictable performance of the plant and associated facilities. 

When the last operating plan MOP8, published in 2010, had projected a plant closure in 2016, the date was based on a ‘single assumed’ annual throughput being achieved. Continuing poor performance however resulted in an almost immediate extension of the closure date to 2017, and even this is now is deemed to be ‘increasingly unrealistic’. MOP9 now tentatively suggests at least 2 closure dates (or something between the two) for B205 by assuming two different annual reprocessing rates – an upper bound of 740 tons per year and 450 tons per year lower bound. Put in context, the latter rate tallies almost exactly with the average throughput achieved annually by B205 over the last 5 years of operation, whilst the upper bound of 740 tons per year has not been achieved for 8 years.

As the NDA publications show, 3800 tons of magnox fuel remained due for reprocessing as at April this year - 3000 tons held in reactor/dry storage and 800 tons in pond storage at Sellafield or reactor sites. Reprocessing the 3800 tons of magnox fuel remained due for reprocessing, at 740 tons per year would see a 2017/18 closure of the reprocessing plant whereas, at 450 tons per year, reprocessing would continue to 2020 at least. Added to this workload is the 44 tons of metallic fuel from the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), with transports to Sellafield expected to begin from Scotland this year. MOP9 recognises that the addition of this fuel could impact on the overall MOP program but confirms that, with priority given to magnox fuel, reprocessing the DFR fuel will not be allowed to significantly extend the pro-gram without a strategy review.

Though a number of initiatives to improve reprocessing performance are incorporated in a Magnox Throughput Improvement Plan (MTIP) set up last year, the NDA acknowledges that if improvements do not materialize, the annual throughput rate of 450 tons for B205 would ‘seem a reasonable value to select’ and will result in a 2020 end to reprocessing. If implemented, it will result in further years’ of radioactive discharges to the environment from the reprocessing plant at levels that pose an added threat – denied by the NDA - to meeting the already jeopar-dized international treaty targets on marine pollution signed up to by the UK Government at the OSPAR convention in 1998. At greatest risk would be the target of concentrations of radioactivity in the marine environment being ‘close to zero’ by 2020.

In operational terms, this ‘reasonable value’ of 450 tons per year represents a significant downgrading of reprocessing targets made by the NDA just 5 months ago in a supplement to its much vaun-ted Sellafield Plan. Described as ’the first credible and underpinned lifetime plan for the Sellafield site’, it projected throughput rates for magnox reprocessing from 2012 to 2017 which ranged from 650800 tons per year. Given the well documented frailties and problems of the ageing reprocessing plant and associated facilities – and its recent track record - these projections were patently incredible and appear to have been plucked from thin air rather than being based on a professional appraisal of the plant’s operational capabilities.

Although a large proportion of the 10,000 strong Sellafield workforce is employed on reprocessing, the anticipated number of job losses is not as great as first expected due to more focus on removing Sellafield’s high-hazard risks and increased NDA financial resources to accelerate decommissioning pro-jects. It is also possible that the government will eventually give the go-ahead for a second Mox plutonium recycling plant.

Source: NuClear News 42, July 2012 / CORE Press release, 20 July 2012
Contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Ra-dioactive Environment (CORE), Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, U.K.
Tel: +44 1229 716523
Email: info[at]

Reprocessing and plutonium stockpiling in East Asia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

"Reprocessing provides the strongest link between commercial nuclear power and proliferation."

– US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 'Nuclear proliferation and safeguards', June 1977.

U.S. Republican candidate Donald Trump recently said that he would support a decision by Japan to build nuclear weapons. "You may very well be better off if that's the case," Trump said. "In other words, where Japan is defending itself against North Korea, which is a real problem. You very well may have a better case right there."1

Trump's comments were criticized both in Japan and in the U.S. But the position of successive U.S. governments has also been highly problematic ‒ publicly criticizing Japan's stockpiling of ever-greater amounts of separated plutonium and voicing concern about Japan's plan to start up the Rokkasho reprocessing plant ... but doing absolutely nothing about those problems.

Japan continues to expand its stockpile of 48 tonnes of separated plutonium (10.8 tonnes in Japan, 20.7 tonnes in the UK and 16.3 tonnes in France) and it continues to advance plans to start up the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in 2018. Rokkasho would result in an additional eight tonnes of separated plutonium annually.

The U.S. has a long history of publicly and privately voicing concern about Japan's plutonium stockpiling, and an equally long history of inaction. Diplomatic cables in 1993 and 1994 from US Ambassadors in Tokyo described Japan's accumulation of plutonium as "massive" and questioned the rationale for the stockpiling of so much plutonium since it appeared to be economically unjustified.2

A March 1993 diplomatic cable from US Ambassador Armacost in Tokyo to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, posed these questions: "Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan's being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?"2

At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, U.S. President Obama said: "We simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we're trying to keep away from terrorists."3

In 2014, a U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration report noted that "global civilian plutonium inventories have risen sharply over the last 20 years" and that "further international engagement is needed to stop plutonium accumulation and start drawing down inventories."4

The Communiqué of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, endorsed by 53 nations, stated: "We encourage States to minimise their stocks of HEU [highly enriched uranium] and to keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum level, both as consistent with national requirements."5

In 2014, with no hint of irony, a joint US/Japan statement announcing the plan to send some HEU and separated plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly at Tokai to the U.S. concluded: "Our two countries encourage others to consider what they can do to further HEU and plutonium minimization."6 The amount of plutonium held at Tokai was 331 kg, yet Japan plans to separate 8,000 kg of plutonium every year at Rokkasho.

Ahead of the recently-concluded 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S. government was once again making strong statements about reprocessing and plutonium stockpiling. In mid-March, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, who heads the State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that reprocessing "has little if any economic justification" and raises proliferation concerns.7

Countryman said "there are genuine economic questions where it is important that the US and its partners in Asia have a common understanding of the economic and nonproliferation issues at stake before making a decision about renewal of the 123 [civilian nuclear cooperation] agreement, for example, with Japan."8

Countryman focused his criticisms on moves by China, Japan and South Korea to develop reprocessing programs while also expressing blanket opposition to civil reprocessing programs: "I would be very happy to see all countries get out of the plutonium reprocessing business."9

Countryman said the U.S. has raised with France its concerns about the dynamics in Asia. France's Areva is heavily involved in the reprocessing plans in both China and Japan.7

Japan's bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. expires in 2018. The current agreement, which will remain in force beyond 2018 unless amended, does nothing to curb or prevent Japan's plutonium stockpiling or its reprocessing plans.10

Washington could apply constraints to Japan's plutonium stockpiling and reprocessing insofar as it involves U.S.-obligated nuclear materials. But that seems highly unlikely. An indication of the realpolitik came in late March when Thomas Countryman, presumably pressured by higher-ups, reversed his earlier statements. Countryman 2.0 claimed that Japan's reprocessing plans and plutonium stockpiling do not raise proliferation concerns and that no other country was closer or more important as a partner to the U.S. than Japan.11

Nuclear commentator Dan Yurman suggests the whole thing was a set-up: "On one hand, the first round of comments by Countryman appear to address China's concerns about Japan's [plutonium] stockpile. China's delegation to the Nuclear Security Summit was led by Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China. On the other, the state department official's reversal appears to also appease the Japanese delegation which undoubtedly did not take kindly to having such a direct set of remarks expressed ahead of their visit to Washington."12

South Korea

Washington and Seoul came to an agreement last year which continues the prohibition on domestic reprocessing in South Korea while permitting research into pyroprocessing ‒ separating fission products from spent fuel, leaving plutonium mixed with other actinides.13

Pyroprocessing is promoted as a proliferation-resistant alternative to conventional reprocessing. But it can also be a stepping-stone to weapons-usable material. South Korea's Chosun Media quotes a nuclear engineering professor saying that "if spent fuel is first reprocessed using pyroprocessing and then dissolved using nitric acid ‒ which is the typical method ‒ then it is possible to obtain more fissile material in a shorter amount of time."14

In a country with reprocessing, a switch to pyroprocessing would be a stepping-stone to non-proliferation. In a country without reprocessing ‒ such as South Korea ‒ pyroprocessing is a stepping-stone to proliferation.

Washington has been more proactive in its negotiations with South Korea than it has been with Japan. But Washington's refusal to do anything about Japan's reprocessing plans and plutonium stockpiling creates a double-standard which is near-impossible to maintain. Christopher Hill, a former American ambassador to Seoul, said in 2013: "If the Koreans are left with the impression that Japan can do things that South Korea can't, then it's not a sustainable concept."15

Proliferation expert Henry Sokolski notes that those South Koreans who want a nuclear weapons option as a countermeasure against North Korea "complain that Washington has authorized Japan, America's other East Asian security ally, to reprocess spent US-origin fuel (fuel made in the United States but burned in reactors in Japan) to produce plutonium. This grates on Seoul, given the historical enmity between Japan and South Korea. Washington has yet to grant South Korea similar recycling rights."16

Shortly after North Korea's nuclear weapon test on January 6, leaders of the South Korean National Assembly's ruling party publicly urged President Park Geun-hye to consider reprocessing fuel from nuclear power plants to extract plutonium, as a hedge against North Korea's nuclear weapons program.16

Elsewhere, the U.S. established a 'gold standard' with a bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates which prohibits enrichment and reprocessing in the UAE. But the U.S. then abandoned the 'gold standard' and is now willing to conclude nuclear trade agreements with (at most) voluntary, unenforceable commitments to forego enrichment and reprocessing.17

Of course, the U.S. is not the only country at fault. France could put international security and non-proliferation objectives ahead of commercial nuclear imperatives ... but that would be a first. Australia has its own unique way of pretending to be concerned about the security and proliferation risks associated with reprocessing and plutonium stockpiling, while ensuring that commercial imperatives and Big Power politics come first. Australia insists on prior consent before Australian-obligated nuclear material is reprocessed. So far, so good ‒ but Australia has never once invoked its right of veto to prohibit reprocessing, even when it leads to plutonium stockpiling.

China's reprocessing plans

At an October 2015 session of the First Committee session of the U.N. General Assembly, China criticized Japan's reprocessing plans, noting that Japan has enough plutonium to produce a large number of nuclear weapons, and that some Japanese advocate weapons production.10

But China doesn't bring a great deal of moral authority to the debate. An editorial in the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said: "China criticizes Japan for possessing enough plutonium 'to produce a large number of nuclear weapons.' Is China, which keeps the actual situation concerning its nuclear weapons secret and is reportedly enhancing its nuclear capability, in a position to criticize Japan?"9

Moreover China is planning to massively increase domestic reprocessing. China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and Areva envisage a commercial-scale plant processing 800 tonnes of spent fuel annually, with capital costs of CNY 100 billion (US$15.4 billion, €13.8 billion).18

In mid-March, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker accused the Obama administration of encouraging reprocessing despite the concern over proliferation, pointing to the renegotiation of a nuclear cooperation agreement with China last year that allows the reprocessing of fuel from U.S.-designed reactors. "We're not calling for a plutonium time-out like we could have done," Corker said.7 Democratic Senator Ed Markey warned of a domino effect in East Asia, saying if Japan and China went ahead with their reprocessing plants, there would be pressure on South Korea to pursue its own reprocessing efforts, which wold in turn undermine efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.7

In Beijing, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz voiced concern about China's plans for its first commercial-scale reprocessing plant. He told the Wall Street Journal that China's recent announcement that it would press ahead with a reprocessing program "certainly isn't a positive in terms of non-proliferation" and that "we don't support large-scale reprocessing". Moniz continued: "I don't think in any way we've been coy about our arguments with all of our partners. We just see so many problems. It's just, on objective grounds, very difficult to understand."19

Areva didn't respond to a request from the Wall Street Journal for comment on Moniz's remarks and CNNC said its press officers weren't available.19

Mark Hibbs from Carnegie's Nuclear Policy Program said China's decision to pursue reprocessing couldn't be justified on economic grounds but China may be acting strategically, guaranteeing future fuel supply by recycling.19 In addition to reprocessing, Beijing plans to expand its limited MOX production capability (most likely with the involvement of Areva) to produce MOX fuel for light water reactors and possibly also fast reactors.18

Moreover there are reports that Beijing may attempt to emulate Russia's build-own-operate nuclear export model and that such an endeavor might be more practical or palatable if spent fuel from overseas reactors is taken back for reprocessing rather than direct disposal.20

Sokolski suggests a more sinister motivation:16

"If China builds and operates this plant, it plans to stockpile plutonium for 10 to 20 years ‒ ostensibly for advanced reactor fuel ‒ producing enough plutonium for between 15,000 and 30,000 bombs, roughly the number of weapons' worth of nuclear explosives that the United States or Russia could remilitarize if they weaponized the massive amounts of surplus nuclear weapons fuel in their respective stockpiles.

"This could be militarily significant. Currently, China's nuclear arsenal is believed to be only 200 to 400 weapons. Its surplus plutonium stockpile, moreover, is only large enough to produce some additional hundreds of bombs, and China lacks any working military plutonium production reactor. Would a Chinese commercial plutonium program serve as a work-around? This may not be China's intention now, but if tensions in the region increased, might this change? One has to hope not.

"What makes these civilian plutonium-recycling efforts all the more dubious is how little economic and technical sense they make. They are not only unnecessary to promote nuclear power or manage nuclear waste, but also clear money losers. Privately, Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean officials and other government advisers concede these points; publicly, they don't."


1. 26 March 2016, 'Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views',


3. 26 March 2012, 'Remarks by President Obama at Hankuk University',

4. National Nuclear Security Administration, Global Threat Reduction Initiative, 3 Dec 2014, "Removal Program Overview",



7. Matthew Pennington / Associated Press, 17 March 2016, 'US official comes out strongly against major powers in East Asia pursuing nuclear reprocessing',

8. 17 March 2016, 'Reviewing the Administration's Nuclear Agenda ‒ Podcast',

9. 23 March 2016, 'Government needs to thoroughly explain nuclear fuel cycle project to U.S.',

10. 11 Feb 2016, 'US, others worried over Japan's plutonium stockpile',

11. Seima Oki, 29 March 2016, 'U.S. official changes stance on Japan's nuclear policy',

12. Dan Yurman, 2 April 2016, 'Nuclear Fuel News for 4/2/16',

13. 22 April 2015, 'S. Korea, US strike new civil nuclear deal',

14. Lee Young-Wan, 19 Feb 2016,

English translation posted at:

15. Jay Solomon and Miho Inada, 1 May 2013, 'Japan's Nuclear Plan Unsettles U.S.',

16. Henry Sokolski, 28 March 2016, 'Can East Asia avoid a nuclear explosive materials arms race?',

17. 23 Aug 2013, 'Sensitive nuclear technologies and US nuclear export agreements', Nuclear Monitor #766,

18. WNA, Feb 2016, 'China's Nuclear Fuel Cycle',

19. Brian Spegele, 17 March 2016, 'China's Plans to Recycle Nuclear Fuel Raise Concerns',

20. 27 Sept 2015, 'China to start reprocessing plant by 2030',

An end to reprocessing?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
M. V. Ramana

Nuclear power is in decline around the world. Globally, nuclear power provides about 11 percent of electricity generated (in kilowatt hours), down from its historic maximum of 17.6% in 1996. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency's projections for the future have been declining steadily and now project nuclear power as constituting 2 to 5.4% of the world's installed electricity generation capacity (in megawatts) in 2050, down from 6.5% in 2013. Despite sustained interest on the part of the politicians and governments, nuclear power has not even maintained market share, let alone grow.

Despite this reality, some nuclear enthusiasts continue to believe that eventually nuclear power would make a comeback and grow so much that the world will run out of uranium that is needed to fuel nuclear reactors. And so, they say, the world would have to construct what are called breeder reactors that would produce more fuel than they consume. This, they argue, is necessary not just to avoid running out of uranium but also make nuclear energy "sustainable" in the long term.1 In line with that very environmental term and the constant effort to greenwash nuclear power, they also use the term recycling to talk about the use of plutonium as fuel.

This view is not new. It is nearly as old as nuclear power, and was widely prevalent and advocated by leading scientists and engineers in multiple countries. For example, in 1953, Franz Simon, a British physicist, wrote, "if we had to rely solely on the amount of [uranium-235] ... available in the known high-grade ore deposits, large scale power production would not be possible ... the real hopes for larger scale power production lie ... in the possibility of making use of uranium 238 or of thorium by the process of 'breeding'. While there is yet no absolute certainty that this can be done the probability is nevertheless high."2 Another physicist, Aleksandr Ilich Leipunskii, promoted breeder reactors in the Soviet Union using an argument that simply presumed that there would be a deficit of uranium resources for the future development of the nuclear industry.3

The expectation that it would become essential to fuel breeder reactors with plutonium was the original rationale for the reprocessing plants constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the early assumption about limited uranium availability was wrong. Indeed, even by the late 1970s, geologists had come to the conclusion that there were very large quantities of uranium ore available, and if one were to mine poorer grades of ore, there is an "approximately a 300-fold increase in the amount of uranium recoverable for each tenfold decrease in ore grade".4 A recent comprehensive review of global uranium resources concludes that, "there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power".5 The range of futures considered in this assessment includes an extrapolation of the International Energy Agency's scenario to meet an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 450 ppm that calls for deploying about 2000 GWe of nuclear power by 2100. In addition to not running out of uranium, there has not also been any major increase in the price of uranium.

In the meantime, experience with breeder reactors around the world has shown that most have had persistent reliability problems, primarily because of their use of molten sodium as coolant.6 The capital costs of breeder reactors have been consistently higher than those of light water reactors; further, their capacity factors have been much lower. As a result, electricity from these reactors was even more expensive than nuclear power from light water reactors. As a result, no country has commercialized breeder reactors and only a few demonstration reactors have been built.

France, the country that is most reliant on nuclear power in the world, did try to commercialize breeder reactors after operating pilot scale and demonstration reactors. The Superphenix started operating in 1986, experienced a series of accidents, and was shut down in 1997.7 During this period it generated less then 7% of the electricity of what it could have done at full capacity. Currently, only a few demonstration reactors are being built or operated. With the exception of Russia and India, no other country has firm plans to deploy breeder reactors during at least the next couple of decades.

For all these reasons, the original rationale for reprocessing of spent fuel proved mistaken. But the die had been cast and reprocessing persisted in France, Japan and the United Kingdom. In an effort to find a rationale for continuing reprocessing, the French nuclear establishment proposed using the plutonium as supplementary fuel for conventional light water reactors. Because plutonium oxide is extremely carcinogenic if inhaled, MOX fuel, unlike uranium fuel, must be fabricated in sealed glove boxes. Even excluding the cost of reprocessing, the cost of MOX fuel fabrication is greater than the cost of the uranium fuel that it replaces. Including the cost of reprocessing, MOX fuel costs about ten times more. Again, the second rationale for reprocessing of spent fuel died in the face of economic realities.

Unfortunately, there are still holdouts, the most bizarre example of which is the Japanese nuclear village, the loose conglomeration of institutions that make nuclear policy in Japan. Even though there is enormous uncertainty about future of Japan's nuclear reactor fleet and about how to dispose of its already huge stockpile of separated plutonium, the nuclear village continues to be interested in starting operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to separate out even more plutonium from spent power reactor fuel.

This persistence will be dear. In 2011, Japan's Atomic Energy Commission estimated that operating the plant would increase the electricity bills of Japan's ratepayers by about ¥7 trillion (US$60 billion) over the next 40 years.

With the failure of their first two justifications, reprocessing advocates have offered a third: facilitating spent fuel disposal. The argument is that plutonium and the other transuranic elements in spent fuel should be fissioned into mostly shorter half-life radioisotopes to reduce the long-term hazard from spent fuel. The reactors being proposed for the "burning" of plutonium and other transuranics, however, are modified versions of the costly and unreliable reactors that previously were being proposed for plutonium breeding. A U.S. National Academy review of a proposal to revive reprocessing and sodium-cooled reactors programs in the United States on this basis concluded in 1996 that "none of the dose reductions seems large enough to warrant the expense and additional operational risk of transmutation."8

Despite all the fond hopes of nuclear establishments around the world, reprocessing is not going to be a solution to the production of nuclear waste. Indeed, it may make it more difficult to solve. Reprocessing plants produce multiple waste streams; these are usually classified on the basis of their radioactive content. So-called low level waste, which has low concentrations of radioactivity but comprises over 80% by volume of the waste stream, is a major problem in terms of management. Because it is produced in such large volumes, nuclear establishments around the world find it expensive to store them and, so release them into the environment after some treatment. But nevertheless, this radioactivity makes it way into marine life and can be detected far away from the source.9

In addition to the economic and environmental arguments against reprocessing laid out above, there is another important reason to be concerned about the practice of reprocessing: that plutonium can be used to make weapons. Practically any kind of plutonium is considered weapon usable. Some make the distinction between weapon-grade plutonium that contains more than 90% of plutonium-239, and reactor-grade plutonium that has increased fractions of the higher isotopes of plutonium. A commonly cited problem with the use of reactor-grade plutonium is the increased risk of a "fizzle yield", where a premature initiation of the fission chain reaction by neutrons emitted by fissioning of plutonium-240 leads to pre-detonation of the weapon and an explosive yield only a few percent of the design value. However, as the U.S. Department of Energy has noted:

"At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or sub-national group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that). At the other end of the spectrum, advanced nuclear weapon states such as the United States and Russia, using modern designs, could produce weapons from reactor grade plutonium having reliable explosive yields, weight, and other characteristics generally comparable to those of weapons made from weapons-grade plutonium."10

The International Atomic Energy Agency assumes that 8 kilograms of plutonium would suffice for a first-generation nuclear weapon of the kind that was exploded on Nagasaki in 1945. The 8 kilograms includes inevitable losses during the production process. On this basis, the world's current plutonium stockpile is adequate for 30,000 weapons. Do we really need more?

The problems with reprocessing discussed above are not new. Over the decades, there has been increasing appreciation of the dubious nature of the arguments for reprocessing, and a steady decline in the number of countries that reprocess. As shown in a recent International Panel on Fissile Materials report11, the world is getting closer to the end of reprocessing spent fuel and separating plutonium.

M. V. Ramana is with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. He is co-editor of the recently published report: 'Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs: Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World',


1. Baldev Raj and P. R. Vasudeva Rao, "For Sustainable Nuclear Energy, a Closed Fuel Cycle," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 9, 2015,

2. Franz E. Simon, "Nuclear Power: A British View," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists IX, no. 4 (May 1953): 125.

3. Paul R. Josephson, Red Atom: Russia’s Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000), 50.

Kenneth S Deffeyes and Ian D MacGregor, "World Uranium Resources," Scientific American, January 1980, 68.

5. Gavin M. Mudd, "The Future of Yellowcake: A Global Assessment of Uranium Resources and Mining," Science of The Total Environment 472 (February 15, 2014): 604, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.070.

6. IPFM, "Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status" (Princeton: International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010); S. Rajendran Pillai and M. V. Ramana, "Breeder Reactors: A Possible Connection between Metal Corrosion and Sodium Leaks," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 15, 2014, 0096340214531178, doi:10.1177/0096340214531178.

7. WISE, "Superphénix Definitely Dead: A Post-Mortem," WISE News Communique 475 (1997); NUKEM, "Is the Superphenix Dream Over...Or Over Yonder?," NUKEM, March 1997.

8. National Research Council, Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separations and Transmutation (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996), 3.

9. NRPA, "Discharges of Radioactive Waste from the British Reprocessing Plant near Sellafield" (Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, 2002); A. Baburajan et al., "Radionuclide Ratios of Cesium and Strontium in Tarapur Marine Environment, West Coast of India," Indian Journal of Marine Sciences 28 (1999): 455–57.

10. DoE, "Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives" (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 1997), 37–39,

11. IPFM, "Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs: Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World" (Princeton: International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2015).

Quotable quotes − reprocessing, proliferation and reactor-grade plutonium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

"The three practical skill sets common to both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons research programmes are nuclear physics, radiochemistry and metallurgy. High performance computing and fluid dynamics mathemat-ical modelling skills are also useful from a design standpoint. In particular, the same practical metallurgical and radiochemical expertise needed to fabricate and reprocess nuclear fuel rods can be readily applied to the extraction, purification, alloying and shaping of the plutonium component of a nuclear warhead."
− Ian Jackson, 2009, 'Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf', International Affairs, 85:6, pp.1157–1172,

"Under NPT rules, there is nothing illegal about any State having enrichment or reprocessing technology − processes that are basic to the production and recycling of nuclear reactor fuel − even though these operations can also produce the high enriched uranium or separated plutonium that can be used in a nuclear weapon. An increasing number of countries have sought to master these parts of the "nuclear fuel cycle", both for economic reasons and, in some cases, as a good insurance policy for a rainy day − a situation that would enable them to develop at least a crude nuclear weapon in a short span of time, should their security outlook change."
− Then IAEA Director-General Dr Mohamed El Baradei, 25 March 2006,

"Reprocessing provides the strongest link between commercial nuclear power and proliferation."
– US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 'Nuclear proliferation and safeguards', June 1977, p.12.

"As we see it, however, the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Such an expansion carries with it a high risk of misusing uranium enrichment plants and separated plutonium to create bombs.'"
– Editorial - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 January 2010,

"All nuclear fuel cycles involve fuels that contain weapon-usable materials that can be obtained through a relatively straightforward chemical separation process. ... In fact, any group that could make a nuclear explosive with weapon-grade plutonium would be able to make an effective device with reactor-grade plutonium. ... The main alternative to the once-through cycle involves the separation and recycling of the plutonium and uranium in the spent fuel. Not only is separation and recycle more expensive, it increases greatly the opportunities for theft and diversion of plutonium."
− Steve Fetter, Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Cooperation, 1999, 'Climate Change and the Transformation of World Energy Supply',

"At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or subnational group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that). ... In short, reactor-grade plutonium is weapons-usable, whether by unsophisticated proliferators or by advanced nuclear weapon states."
− US Department of Energy, 1997, Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 'Final Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives',

"On the basis of advice provided to it by its Member States and by the Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), the Agency considers high burn-up reactor-grade plutonium and in general plutonium of any isotopic composition with the exception of plutonium containing more than 80 percent Pu-238 to be capable of use in a nuclear explosive device. There is no debate on the matter in the Agency's Department of Safeguards."
− Hans Blix, then IAEA Director General, 1 November 1990, Letter to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC. See also Nuclear Fuel, 12 November 1990, 'Blix Says IAEA Does Not Dispute Utility of Reactor-Grade Pu for Weapons'.

"There is clear scientific evidence behind the assertion that nuclear weapons can be made from weapons-grade and reactor-grade plutonium."
− US Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, US Department of Energy, quoted in Steven Dolley, 28 March 1997, 'Using warhead plutonium as reactor fuel does not make it unusable in nuclear bombs',

US MOX plant may get the axe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Obama administration has reduced funding for the construction of a MOX fabrication plant at the Department of Energy's Savannah River site in South Carolina. The plant is about 60% complete but the Obama administration has asked Congress for US$320 million in its 2014 budget — down more than 25% from the current annual budget of US$435 million. In its budget request, the administration wrote that its high costs "may make the project unaffordable" and pledged to look for different ways to dispose of plutonium.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility is being built to carry out a bilateral deal with Russia to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium. However there is currently no agreed customer for the eventual MOX fuel, while Russia has decided to incorporate its plutonium into fuel for fast-neutron reactors rather than MOX for conventional reactors.

Planning for a MOX plant at Savannah River was first announced in 1998. The Department of Energy projected the construction and 25-year operating cost at US$1.8 billion to $2.3 billion, with operations starting in 2007. By the time construction began in 2007, the estimated construction cost had climbed to US$4.9 billion and the completion date had slid to 2016. In March, the Government Accountability Office told Congress that the construction cost has increased to at least US$7.7 billion, and the operational date will slip to 2019. Thus the estimated cost has risen from US$1.8 billion to US$7.7 billion, and start-up has slipped from 2007 to 2019. The project has cost US$3.7 billion so far, and the proposed allocation of US$320 million in 2014 represents less than 10% of the estimated US$4 billion required to complete construction.

Robert Raines from the National Nuclear Security Administration said that the project has suffered from rising costs, poor oversight, unrealistic expectations and inadequately designed critical components. He told a House appropriations subcommittee: "There was a tendency towards optimism in developing project estimates, assessing and assigning risks, identifying and locking in project requirements, and evaluating and monetizing the cost and schedule impacts of building a first-of- a-kind Hazard Category 1 nuclear facility."

Meanwhile, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing board is reviewing claims that the propsed MOX plant does not include adequate security measures. Watchdog groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nuclear Watch South and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, argue that "the risk of plutonium theft would be increased to an unacceptable level" if a federal contractor does not make "fundamental changes" to its plans to secure and account for material at the plant.

Shaw Areva MOX Services, which is building the plant, "proposes to rely on a computerized inventory system to meet certain NRC … regulations in lieu of conventional approaches that entail physical verification of plutonium items," the groups said in a statement.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with Union of Concerned Scientists, argued the company "is proposing a cut-rate approach for plutonium accounting that will make it much harder to detect a diversion or theft of plutonium before it is too late." The "computer-heavy approach could also increase the vulnerability of their accounting system to cyber attack," Lyman said.

Shaw Areva MOX Services said its proposed system meets NRC standards requiring "a licensee to verify, on a statistical sampling basis, the presence and integrity of [sensitive nuclear material], with a 99 percent power of detecting losses of five formula kilograms or more, plant wide, within 30 days ..."

Problems associated with plutonium management and accounting were all too evident at the Sellafield plant in the UK in 2005. A broken pipe in the THORP reprocessing plant led to the leaking into a containment structure of 83,000 litres of a highly radioactive liquor containing dissolved spent nuclear fuel. The spill contained 160 kgs of plutonium − enough to build 15-20 nuclear weapons − yet the loss went undetected for at least eight months. The accident was classified as Level 3 ('serious incident') on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale. British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited was fined 500,000 pounds plus costs after pleading guilty to three serious, prolonged breaches of its licence conditions.

The UK Health and Safety Executive concluded: "An underlying cause was the culture within the plant that condoned the ignoring of alarms, the non-compliance with some key operating instructions, and safety-related equipment which was not kept in effective working order for some time, so this became the norm. In addition, there appeared to be an absence of a questioning attitude, for example, even where the evidence from the accountancy data was indicating something untoward, the possibility of a leak did not appear to be considered as a credible explanation until the evidence of a leak was incontrovertible."

References and main sources:


Japan's reprocessing plans

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Japan continues to work towards operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility in the northern Aomori prefecture. Both the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and Japan Nuclear Fuel have cited October as the start-up date for the facility. However operation is likely to be further delayed in order to meet requirements yet to be set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in response to the Fukushima disaster.

Japan's government and private companies have invested more than US$21 billion in the Rokkasho plant since construction began in 1992. The startup of the plant has been delayed 19 times because of technical and financial problems. [Dow Jones Newswire, 2013]

When operating at full capacity, the Rokkasho plant could separate around nine tonnes of plutonium from 800 tonnes of spent fuel annually; sufficient to build around 900 weapons annually. Diversion of, say, 1% of the separated plutonium would be difficult for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to detect against the background of routine accounting discrepancies, yet it would provide enough plutonium to build one nuclear weapon every 4−6 weeks.

There have been incidents of large-scale plutonium accounting problems in Japan. The 'Atoms in Japan' publication provides one such example. In 2003 it was discovered that of the 6.9 tons of plutonium separated at the Tokai reprocessing facility in the period from 1977 to 2002, the measured amount of plutonium was 206 kgs less than it should have been. After further investigations, the Japanese government claimed that it could account for some of the discrepancy and reduced the figure to 59 kgs. [Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, 2003.]

Japanese officials argue that the reprocessing program is for civil purposes only and that reprocessing is a necessary step towards using the plutonium as reactor fuel and thus reducing plutonium stockpiles. However in practice the use of mixed uranium/plutonium MOX fuel does not reduce plutonium stockpiles because MOX-fuelled reactors produce more plutonium than they consume. Moreover, only four reactors, including the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, have so far used MOX fuel.

Fast neutron (a.k.a. fast breeder) reactors could reduce plutonium stockpiles − but fast reactor programs have mostly been expensive and accident-prone and have done precious little to reduce plutonium stockpiles. Those problems have been all too evident with the accident-prone, scandal-prone Monju fast reactor in Japan.

In the latest scandal, Atsuyuki Suzuki, President of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which operates the Monju reactor, has resigned after the Agency admitted that it had neglected to perform safety inspections on almost 10,000 pieces of equipment, some of them critical for safe operation of the reactor. A statement from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) said: "The Japan Atomic Energy Agency cannot sufficiently secure the safety of Monju. We see deterioration in its safety culture."

The Monju reactor was first brought online in 1994, but a serious sodium coolant leak and subsequent cover-up by JAEA led to a 15-year shutdown. In 2010, the reactor was restarted for testing, but an equipment accident ceased operations before the reactor could reach full capacity. As a result of the latest scandal, plans to restart the reactor have been pushed back and preparatory work has been delayed. Japan Times recently editorialised that the NRA should order the permanent shut-down of Monju and noted that "the JAEA has learned nothing from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, which was caused in part by lax management."

The contradictions with Japan's plutonium program are still more acute since all but two of the country's reactors are shut-down in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Nevertheless, a shipment of MOX left the port of Cherbourg in northern France in mid-April and is scheduled to arrive in Japan in the second half of June, destined for Kansai Electric Power Co's Takahama plant west of Tokyo.

An editorial in The Asahi Shimbun on April 22 outlined the dilemma that seems to be driving the continued pursuit of Japan's plutonium program: "Still, the government and the electric power industry insist on continuing the fuel recycling program because terminating it would turn spent fuel into radioactive waste, causing them to violate an agreement with Aomori Prefecture, which has accepted the related facilities. There is no justification for continuing the now-unrealistic reprocessing program even if ending it requires a time-consuming process of securing the consent of the local communities through earnest dialogue. It is critical that a realistic road map toward interim storage and eventual direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel is worked out. It would be highly irresponsible to try to operate the reprocessing plant simply because it has been built."

Regional implications of Japan's plutonium program
The US government has reportedly expressed concern about Japan's reprocessing plans. Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice-chair of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, met in April in Washington with Obama administration officials. Suzuki said he was told that separating and stockpiling large amounts of plutonium without clear prospects for its use as reactor fuel sets a bad example. In particular, Japan's plans complicate efforts to prevent the development of reprocessing in South Korea and Taiwan, and could also encourage an expansion of reprocessing in China.

These problems have been festering for decades. Diplomatic cables in 1993 and 1994 from US Ambassadors in Tokyo described Japan's accumulation of plutonium as "massive" and questioned the rationale for the stockpiling of so much plutonium since it appeared to be economically unjustified. A March 1993 diplomatic cable from US Ambassador Armacost in Tokyo to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, posed these questions: "Can Japan expect that if it embarks on a massive plutonium recycling program that Korea and other nations would not press ahead with reprocessing programs? Would not the perception of Japan's being awash in plutonium and possessing leading edge rocket technology create anxiety in the region?"

Further raising concerns are calls by hawkish South Korean and Japanese politicians to consider developing nuclear weapons after North Korea began a series of atomic-weapons tests in 2006 (including tests using plutonium produced in an 'experimental power reactor'). Japan's then defence minister Satoshi Morimoto said in 2012 that Japan's nuclear power program is "taken by neighbouring countries as having very great defensive deterrent functions" and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba said: "Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons." In 2002, Ichiro Ozawa, then leader of the Liberal Party in Japan, said: "It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads – we have plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads."

A new US − South Korean nuclear-cooperation agreement, which would allow for the continued sale of US-origin fuel and equipment, was recently deferred for two years. Seoul wants to be allowed to begin enriching uranium and reprocessing spent reactor fuel, but Washington resisted and the two countries agreed to extend the current agreement (which prohibits enrichment and reprocessing in South Korea) while negotiations continue.

"If the Koreans are left with the impression that Japan can do things that South Korea can't, then it's not a sustainable concept," said Christopher Hill, a former American ambassador to Seoul.

It is well within the capacity of the US to take concrete steps to curb the separation and stockpiling of plutonium in Japan. The US has the authority to disallow separation and stockpiling of US-obligated plutonium, i.e. plutonium produced from nuclear materials originally mined or processed in the US. However there has been no suggestion that the US will take such a step.

President Obama cautioned at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: "We simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we're trying to keep away from terrorists." But it appears to be all talk and no action.

In April, China signed an agreement with French nuclear-power company Areva SA to construct a new reprocessing plant similar in size to Rokkasho. Beijing says the plant will be used only for civilian purposes − but it would inevitably increase China's capacity to separate plutonium for potential use in nuclear weapons.

Henry Sokolski from the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center said: "As a practical matter, if it operates Rokkasho, it will force China to respond to re-establish that it, Beijing, not Tokyo, is the most dominant nuclear player in East Asia. Such nuclear tit-for-tats-manship could get ugly."


References and main sources:


UK Plutonium and MOX Experience

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Martin Forwood

Since the production of plutonium (via the Windscale Pile reactors) for use by the UK's nuclear weapons program of the 1950's, Sellafield's flirtation with the civil use of plutonium has seen little progress and led to technical failure and international embarrassment.

From its military origins, plans to permanently deal with the country's ever-growing plutonium stockpile – currently at 118 tonnes, the largest in the world − have remained largely in the background until 2010 when the UK Government launched a Public Consultation on a range of management options. These included its re-use as mixed oxide fuel (MOX), its sale to third parties or its classification as nuclear waste. Given successive Governments' record of unbridled support for the industry, it is unsurprising that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel was chosen as the preferred option. Clearly ignoring recent experiences – as the record shows − both Government and industry appear to have fallen into the trap of actually believing their own propaganda.

Sellafield first turned its hand in the 1960s to the 'civil' use of plutonium which was being recovered in increasing amounts through the site's B204 and B205 reprocessing plant – the latter dealing with the spent from the UK's first generation Magnox reactors. The first of these, the Calder Hall reactors, retaining a dual civil/military role until the 1990s.

This new civil era saw the production of 18 tonnes of plutonium fuel for the Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay in Scotland, and some 3 tonnes of light-water reactor MOX fuel. Despite this limited experience, but sensing the growing MOX market being tapped into by European fabricators, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) launched its plans for a MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) that would 'demonstrate BNFL's ability to produce quality MOX fuel'.

With an 8 tonne per year capacity, MDF operated from 1993 to 1999, producing 44 MOX assemblies for pressurised water reactors (around 660 kgs plutonium) for Japanese and European customers. The facility was closed down in 1999 after the quality assurance data for the only fuel to be produced by MDF for Japan was found, on delivery to Takahama, to have been falsified by MDF workers. Returned to the UK in 2002, the falsified fuel has been pond-stored at Sellafield and is scheduled for transport in 2014/15 to France's La Hague for plutonium recovery.

Despite the scandal bringing the resignation of BNFL's Chief Executive and a compensation payment to Japan (whose utilities called a temporary ban on further dealings with BNFL), the embarrassing event made little impression on BNFL's determination to pursue the MOX fuel market. Plans to enter the market – based on 'the wealth of experience gained within BNFL' − had been laid in 1992 (pre MDF operations) with a planning application for the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) whose viability rested on winning major business from Japan.

Sellafield MOX Plant
Surviving legal challenges and 5 rounds of public consultation which focussed largely on the plant's increasingly dodgy economic case, the first plutonium was introduced into SMP in 2002. With small orders secured from German, Swiss and Swedish utilities, the expected business from Japan was conspicuous by its absence. The technical complexity of SMP, largely responsible for its eventual downfall, caused problems from the first days of operation.

Using a 'short binderless' powder mixing process unique to BNFL, the production line consisted of pellet production, rod filling and assembly of the rods into a MOX fuel assembly. Early failures in one section of the production line lead to bottlenecks in other sections and after 3 years of operation only one MOX fuel assembly had been produced. With its design production capacity cut from 120 tonnes per year to 72 – and then 40 tonnes − SMP was forced to sub-contract some orders to rival fabricators in Belgium and France.

Against this background, and taking ownership of Sellafield and SMP in 2005, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) almost immediately commissioned independent reports on SMP from consultants Arthur D Little, whose 2006 report exposed the extent of SMP's problems and concluded that 'looked at pessimistically, improvement plans will fail to live up to expectations leading eventually to an irrevocable collapse in the business case and closure'.

By 2009, with an overall total of just nine assemblies produced in seven years of operation, it was clear that a major engineering rescue package was needed, with an NDA technical assessment concluding that SMP could provide neither the capacity nor longevity to be used for the UK civil stockpile.

In a surprise announcement in 2010, Japanese utilities agreed to pay an undisclosed sum for the refurbishment with a promise of trial orders with a revamped SMP. Fate intervened however in the form of the Fukushima meltdowns which resulted in the interest in SMP by Japanese utilities being abandoned.

In August 2011, the NDA announced the closure of SMP – the blame being laid conveniently on Japanese problems. In reality, the over-complex plant which cost the UK taxpayer £1.34 billion and had produced just 13 tonnes of MOX fuel (32 fuel assemblies incorporating around 800 kgs of plutonium) in its 9-year life, was clearly beyond salvation − with or without Japanese help.

SMP's closure rekindled official interest in managing the plutonium stockpile. The Government's public consultation, already launched in 2010, had assessed a number of management options. Ruling out fast-breeder reactors and immobilisation of plutonium as a waste as options that were either technically immature, impractical or too costly, the Government concluded that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel remained its preferred option.

Growing plutonium stockpile
The latest official figures show Sellafield's stockpile amounting to 118 tonnes of separated plutonium which includes 24 tonnes of overseas-owned plutonium. Whilst a majority of the 94 tonnes of UK-owned material has arisen from Magnox reprocessing, the overseas-owned plutonium has been recovered largely in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) and, under the terms of the original reprocessing contracts, is destined for return to customers in the form of MOX fuel.

However, in a recent Government U-turn on those contractual requirements, title transfers ('paper swaps') of some overseas plutonium has already seen 7 tonnes taken into UK ownership − 3 tonnes of plutonium of German and Dutch origin being transferred in April 2013 (the German material as repayment to France's manufacture of orders sub-contracted by SMP) and a title transfer of 4 tonnes of German plutonium made in 2012 (to allow MOX fuel for Germany to be produced in France in advance of the German nuclear phase-out).

As it stands, owners of the 24 tonnes of foreign plutonium are Japan (16 tonnes), Germany (3 tonnes), and the balance of around 5 tonnes owned between Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Given officialdom's tacit acceptance that exporting weapons-useable plutonium − in dioxide powder form – from Sellafield is no longer an accepted option, more title transfers are likely as overseas customers increasingly seek to rid themselves of plutonium ownership. Indeed, the fate of the Japanese plutonium has already been under discussion between NDA and Japan.

For the stock of UK-owned plutonium, which will continue to rise until the 2020 scheduled end of reprocessing, its conversion to MOX as preferred by Government/NDA would require a new MOX plant to be built. Estimated at £6 billion, it remains unclear who would take on such a financially risky project, especially in the absence of any viable market for the fuel and the recent SMP debacle.

Seemingly impervious to these obstacles, the UK Government sees MOX fuel being used either in the UK's fleet of new-build reactors or in Candu 6 reactors overseas. Whilst the latter is an option belatedly suggested by Candu Energy − and still under consideration by the NDA − the former looks increasingly suspect with the UK new-build 'renaissance' in increasing disarray. Further, both reactor types scrutinised so far under the regulatory Generic Design Assessment (GDA) licensing process – the EPR and Westinghouse AP1000 − were assessed on their use of conventional uranium fuel only, with MOX use specifically excluded. A late addition, Hitachi-GE's ABWR reactor, began its expected four-year GDA process only in April this year.

Raising further doubts on the Government's preferred re-use option, the NDA revealed in June 2012 that it had opened talks not only with Candu Energy but also with GE-Hitachi who had submitted a feasibility proposal for the use of its liquid metal-cooled 'Power Reactive Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast-breeder reactor (a.k.a. 'integral fast reactor') as an alternative to MOX.

The PRISM proposal, which involves a 60-year program at Sellafield that would see the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium converted to the spent fuel standard of self-protection and proliferation resistance within the first 5 years, is still being assessed by the NDA with a decision expected this summer.

PRISM sceptics rightly point to the earlier rejection of fast-breeders by Government, and the complexity of an immature technology that is still at design stage and would require not only the construction/operation of PRISM itself but also a conversion plant to convert plutonium dioxide to a metal fuel and a pyroprocessing system to process the spent fuel from PRISM for re-use in the fast reactor.

So the jury is still out. Should the decision to approve the PRISM proposal be taken later this year, it would almost certainly mean the end of any future MOX plans at Sellafield. Meanwhile, the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium will remain in storage at a cost of £80 million per year.


'Pizza Cumbriana'
Eight years after it was produced from material gathered from the West Cumbrian coast near Waberthwaite, a radioactive 'Pizza Cumbriana' was delivered to the Low Level Waste (LLW) facility at Drigg on April 29 for disposal as LLW.

Originally presented by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment in March 2005 to the Italian Embassy in London as evidence of the environmental contamination caused by the reprocessing of Italian and other foreign spent fuel at Sellafield, the condemned pizza has languished with other LLW at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell until 22 February 2013 when it was transported by road to its rightful resting place at Drigg.

In advance of its presentation to the Italian Embassy in 2005, analysis of the pizza by Manchester University's Department of Chemistry revealed levels of radioactivity in the pizza topping − comprised of estuary sediment, sea samphire, seaweed and shells − that classified the material as LLW. The levels of radioactivity included 25,000 Bq/kg of Caesium 137, 25,000 Bq/kg of Americium 241 and levels of plutonium up to 15,000 Bq/kg.

Placed in a traditional takeaway pizza box, it was marked with the nuclear waste danger sign and listed its 'traditional Italian ingredients' as 'Caesium, Americium and Plutonium'. The pizza is still 24,392 years within its sell-by date. (, 29 April 2013)

The Plutonium Problem: Reprocessing, MOX, and Fast Neutron Reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Conventional 'Purex' reprocessing involves dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid and separating the unused uranium (about 96% of the mass), plutonium (1%) and high-level wastes (3%).

Most commercial reprocessing takes place in the UK (Sellafield) and France (La Hague). There are smaller plants in India, Russia and Japan. In addition, a number of countries have military reprocessing plants. Including both civil and military plants, the International Panel on Fissile Materials lists 19 reprocessing plants in nine countries − China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK and the US.

Reprocessing is arguably the most dangerous and dirty phase of the nuclear fuel chain. It generates large waste streams with no management solution and it separates weapons-useable plutonium from spent fuel.

Proponents of reprocessing give the following four justifications:

1. Reducing the volume and facilitating the management of high level radioactive waste.
However reprocessing does nothing to reduce radioactivity or toxicity, and the overall waste volume, including low and intermediate level waste, is increased by reprocessing. Steve Kidd from the World Nuclear Association noted in 2004: "It is true that the current Purex reprocessing technology (used at Sellafield and La Hague) is less than satisfactory. Environmentally dirty, it produces significant quantities of lower level wastes."

2. 'Recycling' uranium to reduce reliance on natural reserves.
However, only an improbably large expansion of nuclear power would result in any problems with uranium supply this century. A large majority of the uranium separated from spent fuel at reprocessing plants is not reused, but is stockpiled. Uranium from reprocessing is used only in France and Russia and accounts for only 1% of global uranium usage [IAEA, 2006]. It contains isotopes such as uranium-232 which complicate its use as a reactor fuel.

3. Separating plutonium for use as nuclear fuel.
However there is very little demand for plutonium as a nuclear fuel. It is used in 'MOX' reactor fuel (mixed uranium-plutonium oxide), which accounts for 2−5% of worldwide nuclear fuel, and in a very small number of fast neutron reactors.

4. Using plutonium as a fuel so that it can no longer be used in nuclear weapons.
However, reactors which can use plutonium as fuel can produce more plutonium than they consume (either by design or modification). Moreover, since there is so little demand for plutonium as a reactor fuel, stockpiles of separated plutonium continually grow and now amount to about 260 tonnes [Fissile Materials Working Group, 2013]. That amount of plutonium would suffice to build around 26,000 nuclear weapons (around 10 kgs of 'reactor grade' plutonium per weapon).

Reprocessing has clearly worsened rather than reduced proliferation risks. Addressing the problem of growing stockpiles of separated plutonium could hardly be simpler – it only requires that reprocessing be slowed, suspended, or stopped altogether.

The main reason reprocessing proceeds is that reprocessing plants act as long-term, de facto storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. Unfortunately this sets up a series of events which can be likened to the old woman who swallowed a fly – every solution is worse than the problem it was supposed to solve:

1. The perceived need to do something about growing spent fuel stockpiles at reactor sites (not least to maintain or obtain reactor operating licences), coupled with the lack of repositories for permanent disposal, encourages nuclear utilities to send spent fuel to commercial reprocessing plants, which act as long-term, de facto storage sites.
2. Eventually the spent fuel must be reprocessed, which brings with it serious proliferation, public health and environmental risks.
3. Reprocessing has led to a large and growing stockpile of separated plutonium, which is an unacceptable and unnecessary proliferation risk.
4. Reprocessing creates the 'need' to develop mixed uranium-plutonium fuel (MOX) or fast neutron reactors to make use of the plutonium separated by reprocessing.
5. All of the above necessitates a global pattern of transportation of spent fuel, high level waste, separated plutonium and MOX, with the attendant risks of accidents, terrorist strikes and theft leading to the production of nuclear weapons.

None of this is logical or justifiable on non-proliferation, environmental, public health or economic grounds but it suits the short-term political and commercial objectives of those involved.

In a May 6 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Fissile Materials Working Group proposes:

1. Limit the current scale of reprocessing operations and work to decrease it over time.
2. Stop the expansion of current stockpiles and work to reduce them over time.
3. Apply the most stringent standards of safety, security, accounting, and protection of public health to all processes that result in or use separated plutonium, including fuel fabrication.
4. Minimise the number of sites where separated plutonium is used and handled, and the number and length of transports of such material.
5. Pursue options for dry storage of spent fuel, particularly in multilateral cooperative repositories

Current practices worsen the problems in all respects. As the Fissile Materials Working Group notes: "Where is the plan to reduce the plutonium risk? Negotiations on an international treaty to ban plutonium (and [highly enriched uranium]) production for weapons have been in a stalemate for more than two decades, while states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty − India, Pakistan, and North Korea − are increasing their capacity to separate plutonium for weapons. Although the United States and Russia agreed in 2000 to dispose of 34 tons of excess military stocks under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, this only constitutes about 15 percent of global military-owned separated plutonium."

The Fissile Materials Working Group further states: "Through the Nuclear Security Summit process initiated in 2010, countries have started securing some of the most vulnerable nuclear materials. But they have largely left plutonium untouched."

At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, the US was also the only significant plutonium holder to address the material in its national statement to the Summit. Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Security, says that taking up the matter seriously would require leaders to address associated sensitive questions that they might rather avoid, such as how to deal with nuclear waste if not by reprocessing. [Schneidmiller, 2013]

References and main sources:

Pakistan, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Slovenia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#746, 747, 748
Waste special


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The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has responsibility for radioactive waste management. A Radioactive Waste Management Fund is proposed in a new proposed policy. Waste Management Centers are proposed for Karachi and Chashma.(*01) The low and intermediate level waste (short-lived) will be conditioned for pre-disposal and stored on site. After a period of time, this waste will be transported to a low and intermediate level waste disposal facility for permanent disposal.

The spent fuel from the reactors is presently stored in spent fuel pools at the plant site. It is planned that at each plant site Dry Storage Facilities will be established. The spent fuel which has cooled for over 10 years will be removed from  the pool and placed in Dry Storage. It is expected that the Dry Storage Facility will be licensed for 50 years or more.

Although Pakistan is not reprocessing its spent fuel from nuclear power plants, it has not yet declared it as waste. With increasing uranium prices, it may be feasible in the future to use the spent fuel as a resource and it may be reprocessed (under IAEA safeguards) to obtain material to be used in the production of mixed fuel. Therefore, at present, the decision to put the spent fuel in a non-retrievable Deep Geological Repository is postponed.(*02)

Although there is no sizable civil society, there are examples of people opposing nuclear developments, especially when nuclear waste is involved. This is also admitted by Tariq Bin Tahir Director General Nuclear Power Waste, PAEC, at a presentation at the World Nuclear Association in 2007. Speaking about the need for a disposal facility for low and intermediate waste: “Whereas there is no significant opposition when it comes to selecting a site for a nuclear power plant, siting for a waste site attracts an immediate negative response from the public. (…) The site selection therefore has more to do with socio-political acceptance rather than best technical choice.” Nevertheless, a number of sites are under consideration and, he expects that the disposal facility will start receiving waste in 6 years.(*03) But not much progress is made, because in 2008 a timeframe was mentioned of 8-11 years for a near-surface LILW-facility.(*04)

Also in 2008, at the same presentation, a time frame was published for a geological disposal facility for high-level waste and spent fuel (28-35 years), although it was unclear of the first phase, area survey and site characterization, had already started.

It looks like not much is happening: in one of the latest reports available on the PAEC website(*05) it is only mentioned that work remained in progress in 2009 on “Draft National Policy on Control and Safe Management of Radioactive Waste”. The Draft Policy aims at “establishing a national commitment to control and manage radioactive waste generated in the country in accordance with national legislation/regulations and international standards.” The construction of a dry spent fuel storage facility is still 'planned'


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Baita Bihor repository started operation in 1985 and is a disposal facility for low en intermediate-level waste from industry, medicine and research activities. Disposal galleries are former uranium exploration galleries that have been enlarged. A new near-surface repository is under consideration at Saligny, inside the exclusion zone of the nuclear power plant. A feasibility study is prepared. The conceptual design is similar to those of L’Aube (France), El Cabril (Spain) repositories. (*01)

Used fuel is stored at the reactors for up to ten years. It is then transferred to the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility (DICA), a dry storage facility for spent fuel based on the Macstor system designed by AECL for about 50 years. The first module was commissioned in 2003. Regarding the spent fuel from research reactors policy is return to the country of origin and/or deep geological disposal in the national repository. No reprocessing takes place.

The research of the geological environment for a deep geological repository of spent fuel and high-level waste, which should be available around 2055 is at a very preliminary stage.(*02) In the 1990’s, studies identified as potential host rock the following geological formations: salt, volcanic tuff, granite, shield green slate – Moesian Platform, clay. One to several potential host rock were identified in each geological formation. Over the last years, several R&D studies on general aspects of studying host rocks for a geological repository and general reference design concepts were performed by different organizations within the national R&D supported programs. (*03)

Since Romania is a country with a small nuclear energy program the preliminary estimation of the costs for sitting and construction of a deep geological disposal for spent fuel and long lived waste in a national repository are extremely high. This is the reason for Romania to consider that deep geological disposal in an international repository "could be a better solution for avoidance of leaving unfair burden for future generations," according to a 2003 statement.(*04)

Russian Federation

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Russia will soon start storing spent fuel in a new centralized 'dry' interim storage facility (ISF) at Zheleznogorsk, near Krasnoyarsk. The first phase of the facility, for RBMK-fuel, was completed December 2011, and the first fuel was planned to in March 2012. Reprocessing has always been a major part of waste management. The Russian Federation (and its predecessor the Soviet Union) is the champion of sea dumping. It dumped low and intermediate level waste in Arctic Seas (1964-1991): liquid radioactive waste in Arctic Seas (1959-1991); objects with spent nuclear fuel in Arctic Seas (1965-1981); liquid (1966-1992) and solid (19680-1992) waste in the Pacific Ocean; liquid waste in Barents Sea and Far Eastern Seas (1992) and finally, liquid radioactive waste in Sea of Japan (1993).)(*01). The Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom is responsible for waste management, but in March 2012, a National Operator for management of radioactive waste was established in accordance with the “Federal Law on the Radioactive Waste management” signed in summer 2011.(*02)

Interim storage and reprocessing
Russia needs to build a centralized long-term dry storage due to the limited capacity of existing storage pools. In 19 December 2011, the first phase of a centralized storage facility has been completed at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) at Zheleznogorsk. The initial stage of the facility will be used for storing 8129 metric tons of RBMK fuel from Leningrad (4 units), Kursk (5) and Smolensk (3 reactors). The used fuel from these plants is currently stored in on-site cooling pools, but these are reaching full-capacity, and spent fuel discharges are expected to exceed on site storage capacity. (*03)

The second stage of the facility, for VVER-fuel, is now beginning. Later, used VVER-1000 fuel from reactors at the Balakovo, Kalinin, Novovoronezh and Rostov plants will also be stored at the facility. VVER fuel has already been sent to Zheleznogorsk for storage in water pools. The ISF - measuring some 270 meters in length, 35 meters wide and 40 meters high - will ultimately hold 38,000 tons of used RBMK and VVER fuel.

The fuel will be stored in the facility for up to 50 years,(*04) during which time substantial reprocessing capacity should be brought online. Currently, Russia reprocesses about 16% of the used fuel produced each year, but Russia aims to reprocess 100% in the year 2020.(*05)

In the long-term, a geological repository for high-level radioactive waste is planned.

No waste repository is yet available, though site selection is proceeding in granite on the Kola Peninsula. In 2003 Krasnokamensk in the Chita region 7000 km east of Moscow was suggested as the site for a major spent fuel repository. (*06)

Since the early 1970s, Minatom (Ministry of Atomic Energy) has been studying various sites and geologic formations to determine their suitability for use in the construction of underground radioactive waste isolation facilities. According to the regional approach that has been developed in Russia with regard to the selection of geologic sites for permanent isolation, it is most expedient to have the burial sites near the waste sources. Purposeful research for the high-level waste geological isolation has been done in the two areas where the Mayak Production Association (Chelyabinsk Oblast) and the Mining-Chemical Complex are located. After the results of all research studies were analyzed, two sites nearby Mayak reprocessing plant were selected as top priorities.

A second Russian geological isolation site is the Nizhnekansk granitoid massif, one of the largest massifs in central Siberia, very close to the MCM. It is composed of various types of magmatic and metamorphic rock. Here, also two specific sites were selected. In 2005, however, because of a lack of financing, work on the study at the two Nizhnekansk sites was halted. (*07)

Then in 2008 the Nizhnekansky sites were on the table again as a site for a national deep geological repository. Rosatom said the terms of reference for the facility construction would be tabled by 2015 to start design activities and set up an underground rock laboratory. A decision on construction is due by 2025, and the facility itself is to be completed by 2035.(*08)

Although the import of foreign fuel for the purpose of final disposal is prohibited, much Russian-origin spent fuel is imported. In the 1990s contracts for fuel for reprocessing, has been signed with Ukraine, Bulgaria (both for spent fuel from nuclear power plants), Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic and Latvia (spent fuel form research reactors). The contracts envisage the return of the solidified radioactive waste resulting from the reprocessing. (*09) During Soviet times, spent fuel from VVER-440 reactors in Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia was shipped to Mayak for reprocessing. (*10)

The reprocessing waste from Russian-origin fuel can be left in Russia. Most of the Russian-origin fuel that Russia has repatriated has not been reprocessed in Russia's existing reprocessing plant, however, but is in long-term storage pending the construction of a larger reprocessing plant.(*11)

Slovak Republic

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The state regulation over nuclear safety for radioactive waste and spent fuel management is entrusted to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Slovak Republic (ÚJD SR) established on 1 January 1993.(*01)

Low and intermediate level waste is stored at a near-surface disposal facility in Mochovche. Selection of the site has been carried out between 1975-1979 out of 34 sites. Permission was granted in1999 and operation started in 2001.(*02)

Spent fuel was transported prior to 1987 to Soviet Union for storage and reprocessing: all spent fuel from Bohunice A-1  as well as VVER-440 fuel. Currently spent fuel is not reprocessed.

Waste management strategy is long-term interim storage (40-50) years at a facility at Bohunice, called MSVP, in pools. MSV is in operation since  1987.(*03)

Looking for international solution
Slovakia started its own program of development of deep geological disposal in 1996. Fifteen potentially suitable areas for further investigation were identified, later narrowed to three distinct areas: with five localities: three in granitoid rocks, two in sedimentary rocks environment.(*04)

The research program had been stopped in 2001,(*05) however, and a new strategy had been specified by the government in 2008: disposal in deep geological repository; international solution (export to Russian Federation, international repository); zero alternative, interim storage for a further not specified period of time (“wait and see“ approach).(*06)

The handling of spent fuel after interim storage has not been defined in the Slovak Republic. It can be assumed that this will hamper the determined search for a location for a repository and for the development of a repository concept. According the original plans, decision on selection of the host environment was expected after 2005, selection of a candidate site around 2010, and commissioning of a deep geological repository by 2037.(*07) This has now been postponed for an indefinite period of time.

There is no definition, whether the five locations shall be further explored in case of a decision for a Slovak repository. A time schedule for the further procedure is not stipulated as far as publicly known.(*08)


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The Agency for Radwaste Management is the state-owned public service for radioactive waste management. It is financed through the national budget and partially through the Fund for the Decommissioning of the Krško nuclear power plant. Operational low and intermediate-level wastes are stored on site of the Krsko nuclear power plant, as is used fuel. (*01

A permanent repository for low- and intermediate-level wastes is due to open in 2013 at Vrbina, near the Krsko plant. Site selection has been undertaken over five years, and compensation of 5 million euro per year will be paid to the local community. Vrbina is only for Slovenia's portion of the waste, although it could be doubled in case of an agreement between with Croatia or further use of nuclear power. It will also hold all of Slovenia's industrial and medical radioactive waste as well as the LLW and ILW from the 250 kW research reactor at the Josef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana.(*02)

The 2006 long-term strategy for spent fuel management foresees spent fuel storage in dry casks. Spent fuel will be moved to dry storage between 2024 and 2030 and will be stored until 2065, when a deep geological repository is assured. The operational phase of the spent fuel repository will end in 2070 and the repository should be closed in 2075. In the case of export option, the removal of spent fuel from dry storage is planned between 2066 and 2070. The option of multinational disposal is kept open.(*03)

A particular problem for waste management could be the fact that the reactor at Krško is operated jointly together with Croatia. Differing interests and responsibilities of the two countries may lead to problems when developing a Waste-Management Concept, or with respect to the financing of the Waste Management and to the determination of a location for the repository. The final disposal of the spent fuel is planned, however no efforts are visible regarding the realization.(*04)


*01- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in Pakistan, March 2012
*02- Director General Nuclear Power Waste, PAEC: Radioactive Waste Management Policy & Strategy of Pakistan, September 2007
*03- Tariq Bin Tahir, September 2007
*04- Bymanzur Hussain, Directorate General National Repository PAEC: Status of Radioactive Waste Disposal in Pakistan, April 2008
*05- Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA): Convention on Nuclear Safety, Report by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the Fifth Review Meeting, 2011, September 2010

*01- Nuclear Agency & Radioactive Waste (AN&DR):  Romania Nuclear Power Sector Reverse Trade Mission September 6 - 16, 2010 United States of America. Powerpoint presentation.
*02- European Commission: Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management in the European Union, Seventh Situation Report, 22 August 2011, p.58
*03- Nuclear Agency & Radioactive Waste (AN&DR), September 2010
*04- Romania: Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, First National Report, March 2005

Russian Federation
*01- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999
*02- RIA Novosti, National Operator for radioactive waste management has been appointed, 2 April 2012
*03- Nuclear Fuel: Russia on track to complete spent fuel facility by 2015, 6 February 2012, 5
*04- World Nuclear News: Russia commissions fuel storage facility, 30 January 2012
*05- Nuclear Fuel, 6 February 2012
*06- World Nuclear Association: Russia's Nuclear Fuel Cycle, March 2012
*07- Tatyana A. Gupalo: Creation of Underground Laboratories at the Mining-Chemical Complex and at Mayak to Study the Suitability of Sites for Underground Isolation of Radioactive Wastes, published in: An International Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility, The National Academies Press, 2005. p.240-247
*08- World Nuclear Association: Russia's Nuclear Fuel Cycle, March 2012
*09- Russian Federation: The National Report of the Russian Federation on Compliance with the obligations on the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, October 2008, p.97-98
*10- International Panel on Fissile Materials: Managing nuclear spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, 2011, p.73
*11- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Managing nuclear spent fuel: Policy lessons from a 10-country study, 27 June 2011

Slovak Republic
*01- UJD: UJD SR established, company website
*02- OECD: Radioactive waste management programmes in OECD/NEA member countries: Slovak Republic, 2005, p. 5
*03- Slovak Republic: National Report of the Slovak Republic compiled in terms of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radwaste Management, August 2011
*04- Slovak Republic: Answers on questions on the National Report of the Slovak Republic, April 2009
*05- Wolfgang Neumann, Nuclear Waste Management in the EU, October 2010, p. 72
*06-  Slovak Republic, August 2011, p.95
*07- Slovak Republic, April 2009
*08- Wolfgang Neumann, October 2010

*01- Republic of Slovenia: Fourth Slovenian Report under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, October 2011
*02- World Nuclear News: Permanent store for Slovenian waste, 15 January 2010
*03- Republic of Slovenia:, October 2011, p.14
*04- Wolfgang Neumann: Nuclear Waste Management in the EU, October 2010, p 75

Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#746, 747, 748
Waste special


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The nuclear industry is relatively young in Iran. Most activities, up to now, have been focused on the research and production of radioisotopes for research, medical and industrial uses. Recently, due to the planning and construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant,  Iran is investing heavily in developing its fuel cycle facilities. The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) oversees uranium milling and mining at Saghand, yellowcake production at Ardakan, conversion at Esfahan, enrichment at Natanz, fuel fabrication at Esfahan, and an interim waste facility at Anarak. The AEOI also oversees the nuclear research centers.(*01)

There are a few known waste storage facilities, but only very limited knowledge about scope and capacity. The IAEA learned of the Karaj radioactive waste storage facility in 2003. In the same year, Iran shipped dismantled equipment used in laser enrichment experiments and materials resulting from uranium conversion experiments to the site, where IAEA inspectors viewed them in October 2003. Environmental samples taken by the IAEA at the site in 2005 revealed traces of highly enriched uranium on a container. In response, Iran declared that the traces originated from leaking reactor fuel assemblies at the Tehran Research Reactor. After further investigating the issue, the IAEA concluded that "the statements of Iran are not inconsistent with the Agency's findings, and now considers this issue as resolved."

Anarak is also a nuclear waste disposal site. Iran told the IAEA in 2003 that waste resulting from the experiments irradiating UO-2 targets and separating the plutonium at JHL nuclear center was solidified and sent to Anarak.(02)

In February 2005, Iran agreed to repatriate Bushehrs spent fuel to Russia and thus significantly reduced the risk of nuclear proliferation (and the need for spent fuel disposal), and Russia has a deal with Iran to provide nuclear fuel for the first 10 years to the Bushehr power plant.(*03)


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The 8 November 1987 Italian referendum on nuclear power was launched after the April 1986 Chernobyl accident by the Green Party. A majority voted against nuclear power. (*01) Subsequently, the government decided in 1988 to phase out existing plants 1990.(*02) The main national operator entitled to perform spent fuel, radioactive waste and decommissioning activities is Sogin (Società Gestione Impianti Nucleari).(*03)

A quest to find host communities for national sites to build repositories for the disposal of low and intermediate level and of high level waste met strong local and national opposition and no site was selected.(*04) A new procedure national repository for the LLW disposal was established in 2008. Sogin will make a list of suitable regions, and if no community volunteers, Sogin will submit the list to the Ministry of Economic Development indicating the first three more suitable sites. Within 30 days an inter-institutional Committee will be created, with the participation of representatives from different Ministries and Regions. However, the time schedule (site selection in 2012) has been postponed.(*05)

Since the beginning of its nuclear program, Italy had pursued the option to reprocess abroad the spent fuel. After the political decision to stop all nuclear power activities, the policy of reprocessing abandoned, even though the last shipment took place in 2005 as closure of the service agreements signed in the past. As far as the spent fuel still present in Italy, in 1999 the option of on-site dry storage was initially selected , this was difficult to implement due to the strong opposition of local communities, who considered the presence of the dry stored spent fuel as an obstacle for the release of the site.

So the option to reprocess was reopened and in November 2006 an agreement with the French government, regulating the transfer to France of spent fuel, was signed and in April 2007, Sogin signed a contract with Areva. The first shipment of spent fuel to France took place in December 2007 and shipping the waste has to  be completed in 2012. All reprocessing waste is scheduled to return in 2025 at the latest.

Waiting for the availability of the national storage site, the waste will continue to be stored on site. In most nuclear installations new temporary storage facilities have been constructed or are under design or construction. In some cases the refurbishing of existing buildings has been considered.(*06)

In 2010, Sogin was selected as the organization responsible for the identification of the national site and the construction of the high-level radioactive waste repository (surface and reversible). Within the same decree is laid out the siting procedure for the repository, which, in an attempt to soften opposition in possible host communities, will be part of a technology park including a center of Excellence for research and training in the field of decommissioning and radioprotection.(*07)

From 2009 on, the Italian Government, with the aim to restart a new nuclear program, established the necessary legislative provisions. But another popular referendum (launched before the March 2012 Fukushima accident) on 12 June 2011  abandoned the new nuclear program in Italy again.(*08)


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In Japan the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) was set up in October 2000.

The country has interim storage facilities for all waste classifications at or near the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant. A final disposal facility is expected to be in operation at 2035. The waste management strategy is reprocessing of all spent fuel: first in Europe, and then domestic at Rokkasho. Japan dumped low-level waste in the Pacific Ocean in 12 dumping operations between 1955 and 1969.(*01)

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is seeking permission from the Aomori prefecture to build a low-level waste storage facility at Rokkasho, adjacent to the reprocessing plant. In particular this will be for LLW and what is internationally designated as ILW returned from France from 2013. NISA recommended approval early in 2012 to increase capacity to 2000 drums (200-liter).(*02)

Interim storage & reprocessing
In 1995, Japan's first high-level waste interim storage facility opened in Rokkasho-mura - the Vitrified Waste Storage Center. The first shipment of vitrified HLW from Europe (from the reprocessing of Japanese fuel) also arrived in that year. The last of twelve shipments from France was in 2007, making a total of 1310 canisters. The first shipments from UK arrived in March 2010, with 1850 canisters to go in about 11 shipments in the coming decade.(*03)

In 2005 the utilities Tepco and JAPC announced that a Recyclable Fuel Storage Center would be established in Mutsu City.The application was licensed in May 2010. Application for the design and construction approval was submitted to the Minister of METI in June 2010, and it was approved in August 2010, and the construction work started. The center will store spent fuel generated from Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) and Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) in metallic dry casks, and is scheduled to start commercial operation in July 2012.(*04) The JPY 100 billion facility will provide interim storage for up to 50 years before used fuel is reprocessed.(*05)

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is seriously delayed. First expected to start operation in 1992(!)(*06) and in 1998 supposed start in January 2003,(*07) is currently (April 2012) in a test phase and still not in full commercial operation. The pre-service tests of the main part of the reprocessing plant are now implemented by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), and the completion is planned in October 2012.(*08)

Final disposal site selection
In the 1980s and 1990's two sites were selected for underground research laboratories: already in April 1984 Horonobe, and in August 1995 Mizunami. Mizuname is adjacent to the Tono uranium mine where various kinds of research were conducted using existing mine shafts.(*09)

In May 2000, the Japanese parliament (the Diet) passed the Law on Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste (the "Final Disposal Law") which mandates deep geological disposal of high-level waste (defined as only vitrified waste from reprocessing spent fuel). In line with this, the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NUMO) was set up in October 2000 by the private sector to progress plans for disposal, including site selection, demonstration of technology there, licensing, construction, operation, monitored retrievable storage for 50 years and closure of the repository. Some 40,000 canisters of vitrified HLW are envisaged by 2020, needing disposal - all the arisings from the Japanese nuclear plants until then.

In December 2002, NUMO started to solicit applications (without a specified deadline) from local communities to host a geological repository for vitrified high-level waste that would be at least 300 meters underground. The plan is to select a site by the late 2020s. The selection process is to go through three stages: literature survey; preliminary investigation; detailed investigation for selection of a repository site (about 15 years). The facility would open to accept high-level wastes in the late 2030s.(*10)

Due to a lack of response from municipalities, the amount of the money offered to incentivize applications for the literature-survey stage was raised in 2007 to a maximum of ¥2 billion ($25 million). Up to ¥7 billion (US$90 million) would be provided during the preliminary investigation stage.(*11)

In January 2007, the mayor of Toyo-cho in Kochi Prefecture made the first application(*12) - but without consulting his town council. This resulted in his forced resignation and a special election in April 2007 that resulted in the victory of a candidate opposed to the application. The application was withdrawn.(*13) After this fiasco, the siting policy was changed to allow the government to actively solicit targeted municipalities to apply for a literature survey. So far, as of this writing, it has been the only application.(*14)

Repository operation is expected from about 2035, and the JPY 3000 billion (US$ 28 billion) cost of it will be met by funds accumulated at 0.2 yen/kWh from electricity utilities (and hence their customers) and paid to NUMO. This sum excludes any financial compensation paid by the government to local communities.

In mid 2007 a supplementary waste disposal bill was passed which says that final disposal is the most important issue in steadily carrying out nuclear policy. It calls for the government to take the initiative in helping the public nationally to understand the matter by promoting safety and regional development, in order to get the final disposal site chosen with certainty and without delay. It also calls for improvement in disposal technology in cooperation with other countries, revising the safety regulations as necessary, and making efforts to recover public trust by, for example, establishing a more effective inspection system to prevent the recurrence of data falsifications and cover-ups.

In order to make communities volunteer as possible repository host, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan´s Advisory Board on High-level Waste Repository Safety issued the report on 'Safety Communication on Geological Disposal' in January 2011. This report is based on the "Committee’s recognition that it is important, in confidence building of the safety of geological disposal, to establish a safety communication system, which enables stakeholders or their representatives to participate in the process".(*15)

In the vision of Green Action Japan, “Japan's nuclear waste management policy is unsustainable and in deep trouble because it is dependent on reprocessing with no alternative plan formulated. Aomori Prefecture is concerned that without a final repository site selected and without the implementation of the pluthermal program, it will become the final de-facto repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. In turn, local sites being targeted for interim storage are concerned that if reprocessing at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori does not go forward as planned, they in turn may become a de-facto waste dump because the spent fuel stored at their sites would not be able to be shipped to Rokkasho. In the meantime, the prefectures with nuclear power plants are stating they do not want to extend nuclear waste storage space any further.”(*16)


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In 2003, Kazatomprom, the state owned nuclear company, developed a scheme where revenue generated from importing foreign radioactive waste would be used to fund the disposal of Kazakh waste. The country's environmental groups and the public severely opposed the proposal, and it never went ahead. (After joining the Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone, Kazakhstan committed itself to not importing foreign radioactive waste.) Still, Kazatomprom regularly pays fines for failing to follow laws regarding the storage of existing waste due to a lack of disposal sites.(*01)

Radioactive waste from nuclear power is stored in five different nuclear facilities. At present time Kazakhstan has no integrated and completed system for dealing with radioactive waste, raising serious environmental concerns. The Provisions for radioactive waste disposal were enforced by the Government Decree of 18 October 1996. The Provisions define the order for radioactive waste disposal in a deep geological repository, the procedure for obtaining permission from the regulatory bodies for its deep geological disposal and also establishes the list of necessary documents for this procedure.(*02)

In May 2011, the Minister of Environmental Protection Nurgali Ashimov said, Kazakhstan will not store nuclear waste from other countries. "In accordance with the legislation, it is prohibited to import nuclear waste to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan will never store nuclear waste. Neither the Ministry nor the Government will allow importing it."(*03)

The Aktau BN-350 nuclear power plant was connected to the grid in 1972 and was shut down in 1999. It's spent fuel was stored on site in cooling pools, but in November 2010, all the fuel was removed to a new long-term storage facility. Over the course of 12 shipments during the last year, the spent fuel was transported over 3,000 kilometers from Aktau, near the Caspian Sea, to the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility in Eastern Kazakhstan (MAEC).(*04


*01- Nuclear Threat Initiative – Country Profile: Iran
*02- ISIS: Nuclear Iran, website, visited April 2012
*03- Ali Vaez, Charles D. Ferguson:  Towards Enhanced Safeguards for Iran’s Nuclear Program, FAS Special Report No. 2, October 2011, p.25, 28

*01- Energie e Innovazione: I risultati dei referendum sull' energia, November/December 1987
*02- WISE News Communique: Nuclear power in Italy finished,15 July 1988
*03- Italy: Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, Second Italian National Report, October 2008, p.5
*04- AFP: Italy backtracks on nuclear waste decision after mass protests, 27 November 2003
*05- OECD: Radioactive waste management and decommissioning in Italy, 2011, p.13-14
*06- Italy, October 2005
*07- OECD, 2011
*08- Nuclear Monitor: No to nuclear power – Historic victory Italian referendum, 17 June 2011 p.1

*01- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, IAEA-Tecdoc-1105, August 1999
*02- World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in Japan, March 2012
*03- IPFM: Managing spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, 2011, p.54
*04- Japan: Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management National Report of Japan for the fourth Review Meeting, October 2011
*05- Akahata Sunday Edition: N-related money behind restart of N-waste storage facilities construction, 2 October 2011
*06- Nuclear Monitor 716: Two year delay for Rokkasho plant, 24 September 2010, p.6
*07- Nuke Info Tokyo: Japan's HLW disposal plan, CNIC, March/April 1998
*08- Japan, October 2011, p.2
*09- Nuke Info Tokyo, March/April 1998
*10- Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan: Siting Factors for the Selection of Preliminary Investigation Areas, December 2002
*11- NUMO 2008: Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Japan, July 2008, p.8
*12- NUMO: Toyo town applies as a volunteer area for exploring the feasibility of constructing a repository for high-level radioactive waste, Press release, 25 January 2007
*13- Aileen Mioko Smith: The Failures of Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Program 1956 – 2007, Green Action Japan, May 2007
*14- no further applications are announced at the NUMO website, April 2012
*15- OECD: National framework for Management and regulation of radioactive waste and decommissioning, October 2011, p.9
*16- Green Action Japan: Japanese nuclear power plant waste, website, visited April 2012

*01- Togzhan Kassenova: Kazakhstan's nuclear ambitions, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2008
*02- T. Zhunussova, O. Romanenko, M. Sneve, A. Kim, I. Tazhibaeva, A.Liland: Norway-Central Asia cooperation on nuclear safety and radiation protection. Regulations for radioactive waste handling for long-term storage and final disposal in Kazakhstan, 2009
*03- Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, accredited to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand: Kazakhstan not to store other countries' nuclear waste - Minister of Ecology N. Ashimov, 3 May 2011
*04- National Nuclear Security Administration: Joint Statement By Co-Chairs of the U.S.-Kazakhstan Energy Partnership On Successful Completion of the U.S.-Kazakhstan BN-350 Spent Fuel Program, 17 November 2010

Germany, Hungary, India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#746, 747, 748
Waste special


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In Germany spent fuel removed from reactors untill 2005 is reprocessed. In the 2002 phase-out law, reprocessing is forbidden from 2005 on.(*01) Interim storage of reprocessing waste takes place at Gorleben. Interim storage of spent fuel takes place at Ahaus and on site.

Underground storage facilities are (planned) at Asse, Schacht Konrad, Morsleben and Gorleben. There are many low- and intermediate level waste storage facilities, some undergound (Morsleben, Asse), some on site (Karlsruhe, Mitterteich, Juelich, Greisfswald).(*02) (West-) Germany once dumped low- and intermediate level nuclear waste in the Atlantic Ocean, in 1967.(*03)

The experience with storage of nuclear waste in salt domes are dramatically bad. In Germany two salt domes with radioactive waste threaten to collapse. The cost to isolate the salt domes as well as possible, amounts € 6.1 billion. The planned storage in Gorleben, on which € 1.5 billion has been spent, has been controversial and will not begin before 2035, at the earliest.

1. The Asse salt dome
The Research Mine Asse II salt dome is situated in the state of Lower Saxony. From 1967 till 1978 about 125,000 barrels (or drums) of low-level and 1,300 barrels of intermediate-level radioactive waste have been stored there, for research purposes. The low-level radioactive waste is located in 12 caverns at 725 and 750 meters depth, the medium-level waste in one storage room at 511 m depth.(*04) Around 1970 it was the intention to store also high-level waste in the salt dome.(*05) This plan was a key reason for the Dutch government to opt for high-level waste disposal in salt domes; there were even Dutch experiments in Asse.(*06) However; there never has been high-level waste stored at Asse.

According to an information brochure from the GSF in April 1973: „The mine buildings would remain stable in case of flooding”. “The shaft Asse II is currently completely dry and leakproof. The possibility of flooding through the shaft into the mine buildings is therefore excluded.” Now for over 20 years around 12,000 liters of water per day flows into the salt dome. The formed brine has affected the waste drums, resulting in leakage of radioactivity.(*07) In 2009 at 700 meters depth radioactive cesium-137 has been found and it become known that already in 1988 cesium, tritium, strontium-90 and cobalt-60 has been measured in salt brine.(*08)

So, although it as claimed in the early 1970s that disposal at Asse would be secure for thousands of years, it turns out there is water influx after 15 years and radioactivity is leaking after 40 years.

This is an even bigger problem because in late August 2009 it was disclosed that there is not 9.6 but an amount of 28 kilograms of plutonium present in (mostly the LLW) in Asse.(*09) Ten days earlier, on August 19, the former German Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said on the TV-program "Hartaberfair" of the public German television (Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen),(*10) that the safe closure of Asse will cost between €2 and €4 billion, the nuclear industry has paid €450,000 for the storage, the taxpayer will foot the rest of the bill. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) on 2009, cracks have emerged because corridors and caverns remained open for a long time, which caused instability and therefore insecurity in the salt dome.(*11)

On 3 September 2009 the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) said that it is unclear how long it takes before the shafts are no longer accessible and that therefore urgent measures are needed.(*12) Merkel's government agrees with that. On 15 January 2010 the BfS announces that all barrels must be excavated.(*13) According to the German environment minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) retrieving the low-level waste is expected to cost €3.7 billion,(*14) with a further €200 million for the disposal of the intermediate level waste.(*15)
In May 2010 Röttgen called Asse "an example of a collective political failure, a failure independent of political parties". He first wants to open at least two storage chambers to investigate the condition of the barrels.(*16)

In February 2011, Dr. Heinz Geiser, the manager of the Gesellschaft für Nuklearservice (GNS), stated that for the barrels that are recovered to the surface a building has to be realized with a storage capacity of 275,000 m3. To avoid additional transports he says the facility has to be built near Asse.(*17) End May it is published that Bfs has been granted a permit has to retrieve  the radioactive waste.(*18)

The 100 page permit consists of 32 requirements BfS has to meet. If these requirements are met, exploration of two storage rooms with nuclear waste, rooms 7 and 12, can start. It will begin with drillings into these two storage rooms to get an impression of the state of the nuclear waste and the storage rooms itself. Cameras have to shed some light on the state of the barrels. Measuring equipment must give information about the air quality in those rooms, which include possibly a concentration of flammable or explosive gas, and high levels of at least tritium and radon are expected. BfS will then analyze the results of the measurements and observations. If this assessment is positive, then both chambers at 750 meters depth will be opened. The next step is the recovery of the waste drums.(*19)

But much more has to be done. For example: the retrieval of the nuclear waste must comply with the requirements of the Nuclear Energy Act. Therefore, the existing shaft has to be made safer. But there is still a risk that the salt dome is filled with water. Therefore, the storage mine has to be stabilized. If water flows in uncontrolled, emergency measures have to take into effect. These include methods to close the storage rooms and the shafts quickly and to spray magnesium chloride in the storage mine. With this, BfS wants to ensure that as little as possible radioactive substances can be released when the mine is filled with water.
Because the existing shaft is not suitable for the recovery because of the limited capacity, a new shaft has to be constructed to retrieve the barrels in a safer and faster way to the surface.(*20)

The excavated drums are temporarily stored above ground in a building, but there is still no decision on where that storage building has to come. Then the drums have to be stored somewhere permanently. But also the final destination is unknown.(*21) Although still far from clear what will happen exactly, all stakeholders are convinced that they are dealing with something unique. Retrieval of drums with nuclear waste from a geological repository has happened nowhere in the world.(*22) In December 2011 it became known that BfS-experts think that already within a year much water can come in the salt dome, which would make the retrieval of nuclear waste no longer feasible.(*23,24) This message caused much anxiety among the population and politicians. The state secretary of Environment, Ursula Heinen-Esser, declared on 8 February 2012 to stick to the excavation of all barrels,(*25) and added on 13 February 2012 that the excavation can take as much as forty years instead of the planned ten years.(*26)
Wolfram König, director of the BfS, while thinking that excavation of all drums is necessary,  also said in early February 2012: "The history of Asse is a prime example of how a safe disposal of nuclear waste must not be carried out. In this textbook case is written that there is relied too much on technical solutions and there was paid too little attention to the limits of knowledge and the taking of responsibility."(*27)

2. The Morsleben salt dome
The (former East-) German salt dome Morsleben is a final disposal mine for low and medium level radioactive waste. The intention is to fill and close the salt dome. That will costs €2.2 billion public money.(*28) In the mine in Saxony-Anhalt are stored 37,000 m3 of low and medium level waste and 6,700 used radiation sources.
In 2000, because the salt dome threatened to be filled with water and to collapse, the German government stopped with the disposal in Morsleben. In March 2003, it was decided to fill as soon as possible 670,000 m3 of storage room of the salt dome with a mixture of salt, coal ash,

cement and water. This mixture is called salt concrete. In order to cover the radioactive waste safely forever from environmental influences, a total of 4 million cubic meters must be filled. The BfS estimates that, when a license is obtained, a period of 15 years is required for filling and final closure of the salt dome. On 27 August 2009 it was found that thousands of tons of salt can fall down from the ceiling of storage rooms.(*29)

3. The Gorleben salt dome
The most important salt dome in Germany is the one in Gorleben. Since 1977 research takes place in and around the salt dome, with total costs (in 2008) of  €1.5 billion.(*30) It remains unclear, however, why Gorleben has been chosen on the first place: on 30 January 2010 it was announced that Gorleben initially was not found on the list of possible salt domes.(*31) As a large number of reports from the 1970s are now public, it is possible to try to reconstruct the decision-making process. In a May 2010 study of the historian Anselm Tiggemann it is revealed that although Gorleben was on top of a 1975/6 list of 20 possible locations. In 1976, the choice fell however, on the salt domes Wahn, Lutterloh and Lichtenhorst. After much opposition against research at these locations the choice fell on Gorleben, but without any collection of data to compare Gorleben with other salt domes. That feeds, according to Tiggeman, the idea that political motives have played a role.(*32) On 10 June 2010, in an advice to the Parliament, Jürgen Kreusch wrote(*33) that little was known about Gorleben in 1977, and it is hard to understand why the choice fell on Gorleben.

Gorleben is the world's model for storage in salt domes. But already in 1977, in a large-scale study, it was discovered that the salt dome is in contact with groundwater. And the German geologists Detlef Appel and Jürgen Kreusch demonstrate in their November 2006 report that the covering layer above the salt in an area of 7.5 square kilometers is missing.(*34) With that the dome doesn’t meet a central requirement for suitability.
At least since 26 August 2009, the then German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel thinks the salt dome is unsuitable for storage of radioactive waste, because of safety reasons.(*35) Those risks were already known 25 years ago, but research reports about that have not been published until recently. Besides all this, treaties with landowners, including the land where the salt dome lies, expire in 2015. According to the Mining Act, the construction of the disposal mine has to stop then.

In the 26 October 2009 CDU-CSU-FDP coalition agreement, the new government declared that it want to lift the year 2000 moratorium for further research. It states the research must be transparent and not anticipate a specific result. Also, the region must be compensated for the fact that the disposal is of national importance.(*36)

In December 2011 the Federal Government and the governments of the states decided that a comparative study into final disposal sites should take place and legislation should be made in 2012. According to the agreement a number of locations have to be selected in 2014, where research will be done until late 2019 leading to a final selection. From 2019 on underground research will take place, followed by authorization and commissioning from 2035.(*37)

Then a debate emerged about whether Gorleben still qualifies as a repository.(*38) Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) is sticking to Gorleben and in a March 1, 2012  meeting of Federal and state environment ministers no agreement could be reached on this. But the ministers decided that attention should be given to education of the population at the possible disposal sites: information centers will be opened and discussion meetings with the population will be held.(*39) The local and regional groups are disagreeing and claim there are already more than enough arguments to remove Gorleben from the list.(*40)

Then, on March 2012, the government decided to stop research at Gorleben for a number of years and first investigate other locations.(*41) For the Greens, the Social Democrats and even part of the Christian Democrats, this decision is not enough: they want a 'blank map” to start with: Gorleben should be abandoned as disposal site.


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% of total electricity 




PURAM, the Public Agency for Radioactive Waste Management, is a 100% state owned company responsible for the management of radioactive waste, and was established on 2 June 1998 by the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority.(*01)

The strategy on low and intermediate level waste disposal is burying in cemented form in steel drums in a shallow-ground disposal site, maintained for 600 years. Since 1986, ILW/LLW from the Paks nuclear power station has been stored at Paks, due to public opposition to its continued burial at the existing disposal site at Puspokszilagy. Public opposition also prevented disposal of Paks-generated waste at the alternative site at Ofalu. Until this situation is resolved, the waste is stored on site at Paks.(*02) In October 2008, a final surface storage facility was inaugerated at Bataapati and construction begun on underground disposal vaults. Bataapati, was selected from some 300 potential locations after a 15-year selection and development process. Final approval was given by parliament in 2005.(*03) The construction of the underground caverns has not been finished, but some low-level waste is stored on surface facilities.(04)

Final geological disposal
Awaiting a final disposal facility spent fuel is stored on site at the ISFSF (Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility) for a period of 50 years.(*05)
The exploration program to find a final disposal repository for high level wastes was launched at the end of 1993, with the investigation of the Boda region. Although this program outlined long-term ideas, it mainly focused on the in-situ site investigations carried out by the Mecsek Ore Mining Company in the area of the Boda Claystone Formation at 1100 m depth (accessible from the former uranium mine) during 1996-98. The program was limited to three years because of the closure of the mine in 1998; the reason for this was that the existing infrastructure of the mine could be economically utilised only during this time period.(*06) It was stated in the final report, that there was no condition which could be used as argument against the disposal of high level wastes in the Boday claystone formations. PURAM launched a countrywide geological screening program in 2000, and it was concluded that the Boda Aleurolit Formation had proven to be the most promising host rock for the high level waste repository. But due to financial restraints most of the research stopped in the years after. A revised schedules foresees in developing criteria for site selection un till 2015; completion of safety assessments (2030); construction of an underground lab (in 2038) and must result in commissioning of a geological repository in 2064.(*07)


Nr. of reactors

first grid connection

% of total electricity  




Nr. of reactors
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established in 1948 under the Atomic Energy Act as a policy body. Then in 1954 the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was set up to encompass research, technology development and commercial reactor operation. The current Atomic Energy Act is from 1962, and it permits only government-owned enterprises to be involved in nuclear power.(*01)

In the context of India's nuclear fuel cycle, spent fuel is not considered waste but a resource. The spent fuel is temporarily stored on site, before transported for reprocessing. A three-step strategy for high-level waste has been established: immobilization, interim retrievable storage of  conditioned waste and disposal in deep geological formations. According to the national policy, each nuclear facility has its own near-surface disposal facility for low and intermediate-level waste. Currently there are seven NSDFs in operation.(*02)

Radioactive wastes from the nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants are treated and stored at each site. Waste immobilization (vitrification) plants are in operation at Tarapur and Trombay and another is being constructed at Kalpakkam. The Tarapur facility consists of an underground hydraulic vault, which in turn houses two more vaults, which can store about 1700 casks for 20-30 years before they are planned to be transported to a deep geological repository.(*03)

Research on final disposal of high-level and long-lived wastes in a geological repository is in progress at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay.(*04)
Amid concerns over waste management at the proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in January 2011 said it was not an immediate problem for India and lamented a lack of balanced environmental approach towards nuclear energy. "This discussion has come at a time when there had been a lot of concern about Jaitapur. A lot of concern has been raised about waste, we don't have a waste management problem. We will have it by the year 2020-2030," Ramesh said.(*05)

A program for development of a geological repository for vitrified high level long lived wastes is being pursued actively, involving In situ experiments, site selection, characterization and laboratory investigations. For assessment of the rock mass response to thermal load  from disposed waste overpack, an experiment of 8-years duration was carried out at a depth of 1000 m in an abandoned section of Kolar Gold mine.(*06)

The Department of Atomic Energy will set up an underground laboratory in one of its uranium mines to study qualities of the rock at the mine bottom to decide whether it can be used to store nuclear waste. "We are looking for a rock formation that is geologically stable, totally impervious and without any fissures," Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee told reporters in Delhi.(*07)

Over the next five years, scientists are going to study a set of physical and geological parameters required for setting up the deep geological disposal facility before zeroing in on its location. The options vary from underground storage in rocky central India to plains where the storage may be housed inside layers of clay. The proposed repository will have large chambers with adequate shielding where nuclear waste from all over the country will be transported periodically. There would be also automatic heat management and radioactivity monitoring.(*08) There is no planned date for a final repository coming into operation.


*01- International Panel on Fissile Materials, Managing spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, 2011, p.43
*02- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Nuclear Waste Repository Case Studies: Germany, Michael Sailer, 29 August 2008
*03- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, Tecdoc-1105, August 1999, p.34
*04- Nuclear Heritage: Information about the Research Mine Asse II, late 2008
*05- Ipsen, Kost, Weichler: Analyse der Nutzungsgeschichte und der Planungs- und Beteiligungsformen der Schachtanlage Asse II, University of Kassel, Germany, March 2010 p.17
*06- NRC Handelsblad, 'Opslag kernafval in zoutlagen kan heel goed', April 5, 1984.
*07- Shaft ASSE II – a pilot project for nuclear waste storage in a mine shaft / the research mine for nuclear waste storage, Chronology 1.11.2007
*08- Bundnis90/Die Grünen: Asse-Chronik –Vom Umgang mit Atommüll in Niedersachsen, Hannover, June 2009.
09- BMU (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety): Mehr Plutonium in Asse als bislang angenommen, Press release 281/09, 29 August 2009
*10- Erstes Deutsche Fernsehen, Hartaberfair, 19 August 2009
*11- Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, Endlager Asse: ein Überblick, August 2009
*12- Bundesamtes für Strahlenschutz: Wie soll die Asse stillgelegt werden?, Press release 29/09, 3 September 2009
*13- Bundesamtes für Strahlenschutz : BfS stellt Ergebnis des Optionenvergleichs zur Schließung der Asse vor, Press release 01/10, 15. January 2010:
*14- Frankfurter Rundschau: Milliardengrab Asse, 29 January 2010
*15- Umwelt-Panaroma: Stromkonzerne sollen offenbar für Asse-Sanierung zahlen, 6 February 2010
*16- Asse Einblicke: Niemand weiss, wann das erste Fass geborgen wird, 03/2010, May 2010, p4.
*17- Newsclick, Lager für Asse-II Müll wird grosser, 23 februari 2011
*Ge18- Asse Einblicke, Gemeinsam tragen wir verantwortung, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1
*19- Asse Einblicke, Auf dem Prüfstand, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1.
*20- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 2.
*21- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 2.
*22- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1.
*23- Handelsblatt: Atommüllager Asse, Opposition warnt vor Umweltdisaster, 23 December 2011
*24- ZDF Heute, Bleibt der Atommüll doch im Asse-Schacht?, 23 December 2011
*25- Deutsche Bundestag: Bundesregierung: Noch kein Zeitplan für Rückholung des Atommülls aus der Asse möglich, 8 February 2012.
*26- Strom Magazin: Rückholung von Atommüll könnte 40 Jahre dauern, 13 February 2012
*27- Asse Einblicke: „Jeder muss für sein Tun geradestehen“, nr. 16, February 2012, p.1
*28- Deutsche Bundestag; Antwort auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Linksfraktion (16/9935), (answer on parliamentary questions) Bundestag, hib-Meldung, 2008_227/01, 8 August 2008
*29- Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, BfS trifft Vorsorge gegen möglichen Löserfall in Morsleben”  press release, 27 augustus 2009.
*30- Deutsche Bundestag; Antwort auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Linksfraktion (16/9935),(answer on parliamentary questions) Bundestag, hib-Meldung, 2008_227/01, 8 August 2008
*31- Elbe Jeetzel Zeitung: Gorleben per Hand  Nachgereicht, 30 January 2010.
*32- Anselm Tiggemann, Gorleben als Entsorgungs- und Endlagerstandort, study commissioned by Lower Saxony ministry for Environment and Climate Protection, May 2010
*33- Jürgen Kreusch, Ausarbeitung für den 1. Untersuchungsausschuss der 17. Wahlperiode (Gorleben-Ausschuss), Fragen und Antworten in Zusammenhang mit der Festlegung auf den Standort Gorleben und der Begründung zur untertägigen Erkundung (1979 – 1983), Hannover, 10. June 2010
*34- Detlef Appel  en Jürgen Kreusch, Das Mehrbarrierensystem bei der Endlagerung radioaktiver Abfälle. Warum der Salzstock Gorleben nicht als Endlager geeignet ist,  14 November 2006
*35- ZDF, Heute Nachrichten, 26 augustus 2009.
*36- CDU, CSU, FDP: Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und FPD, 26 October 2009, p.21
*37- BMU: Bund und Länder einigen sich auf Endlager-Fahrplan, 15 December 2011
*38- ContrAtom: Ein Jahr Gorleben-Epilog, 12 February 2012
*39- Dadp, Suche nach Atommüllendlager weiter offen, 1 March 2012
*40- Bürgerinitiative Lüchow-Dannenberg: Gorleben-gegner fordern Bau- und Erkundigungsstopp und den Abbruch der vorlaufigen Sicherheitsanalyse Gorleben ein, 9 February 2012
*41-Süddeutsche Zeitung, Debatte um Atom-Endlagerstandorte; Bund will Gorleben einmotten, 23 March 2012

*01- OECD: Radioactive waste management and decommissioning in Hungary, 2009
*02- IAEA: Country Profile; Hungary, NEWMDB reports
*03- WNN - Hungary inaugurates permanent waste repository, 9 October 2008
*04- PURAM:  The 11th medium and long-term plan of Puram, May 2011, p.8
*05- PURAM, May 2011, p.12
*06- Republic of Hungary: Second Report prepared in the framework of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, 2005, p.13
*07- PURAM, May 2011, p. 35-38

*01- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in India, March 2012
*02- Upasana Choudhry: Half life, Radioactive waste in India, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, March 2009
*03- Deccan Herald: India keen on having nuclear waste repository, 14 February 2012
*04- World Nuclear Association, March 2012
*05-  The Times of India, Nuclear waste not an immediate problem for India: Ramesh, 3 January 2011
*06- Bhabha Atomic Research Centre: BARC Highlights: Nuclear fuel cycle, 2007, ch.17
*07- Daily News and Analysis India,  India scouting for sites to store nuclear waste, 14 February 2012
*08- Deccan Herald, 14 February 2012

Marcoule explosion figures "erroneous if not lies"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The 12 September explosion in a furnace at the Centraco low-level radioactive waste processing facility at Marcoule in southern France has been rated at Level 1 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). The blast at the facility, owned by EDF subsidiary Socodei, resulted in the death of one worker and injury to four others. CRIIRAD found out that the figures given concerning the radioactivity of wastes at the Centraco furnace were erroneous, and probably deliberate lies.

In nuclear matters, the files keep changing yet the same conclusions can be drawn: every time the companies involved underestimate the risks, and the official experts show a lack of critical thinking, even a certain complacency.

On 23 September, the CRIIRAD contacted the French Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire -ASN) and the ministries of Health, Industry and Ecology. Its task is to regulate nuclear safety and radiation protection, on behalf of the State, in order to protect workers, patients, the public and the environment from the risks involved in nuclear activities.

In their letter, CRIIRAD denounced the secrecy shrouding the key elements of the Centraco file, as well as the publication by IRSN (Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Security) which presented an astoundingly low figure (63 000 Bq) for the activity of 4 tons of metallic wastes present in the furnace at the time of the September 12 explosion. CRIIRAD considered this figure "absolutely incompatible" with the dose rate of 8,5 μSv/h (microSievert/hour) reportedly measured in the body of the explosion victim. Since the information on the dose came from an unofficial source, the CRIIRAD had not gone further than asking questions and seeking clarification from ASN.

On 28 September, from the website of Le Dauphiné Libéré, the CRIIRAD learnt of the declarations of the Procureur in charge of inquiries, M. Robert Gelli, its declarations confirmed the dose findings. CRIIRAD therefore sent an official letter to the Procureur de la République (a high-level attorney), emphasizing that it is "impossible to measure such a high dose rate if the contamination comes from metallic wastes as weakly contaminated as the operator and the IRSN claim them to be", and calling on the inquiries office to carry out dosimetric cartography and laboratory analyses in order to establish the real activity of the 4 tons of radioactive wastes.

On September 29, CRIIRAD sent a letter to ASN saying CRIIRAD has just became aware of the information published by ASN on its website the day before, which indicates that the "the furnace contained, at the moment of the accident, a load of about 4 tons of waste with an activity of 30 million Bq and not 63 thousand Bq as the operator at first announced". This new figure is 476 times higher than the one that had been circulating since September 1

This information prompts some very serious questions:

1. Would those new numbers also have been published if CRIIRAD had not officially, by registered mail, contacted the various authorities on September 23?

2. How come the state’s expert body, the IRSN, which was present onsite and has far greater resources than CRIIRAD, accepted without reservation the suspect figures given by SOCODEI, the operator. The figure of 63 kBq was published on September 12, by IRSN without any subsequent correction.

3. What credibility can we give to the operator’s self-monitoring, which is an essential aspect of the Centraco plant? From 63 kBq to 30 MBq, the discrepancy is not 10 or 20% but nearly 500 times! And it is highly improbable that this was a mere unlucky set of circumstances, that the explosion involved the operator’s only set of ill-measured wastes. CRIIRAD has studied the original projectplan for the Centraco plant and one of its main criticisms at the time concerned specifically the lack of a reliable system for monitoring the activity of wastes.

Is the Centraco plant not operating in complete breach of the rules prescribed for its operation? Does the plant not violate the authorization decree that limits the total activity it may hold; and exceed of the ceilings for radioactive and chemical pollutants discharged into the atmosphere and the Rhone river. If the real discharges are 10 times or 100 times greater than those declared, the limits for discharge of , for example, tritium or alpha emitters would certainly be exceeded.

The inquiries office will have to determine whether the underestimation of the activity of waste is due to a deliberate action by the operator or a failure to master the radioactive substances it deals with. Whichever explanation is the correct one, both are very worrying.

In order to obtain access to all parts of the dossier, the management of CRIIRAD have decided to place a Depot d'une Plainte en Justice (formal legal complaint) on the agenda of ASN’s next administration council meeting, scheduled for 14 October next.

The objective is to make sure that all responsibilities are well researched and well established. The explosion caused the death of an employee, and another is in a critical condition. Full light must be shed on the plant’s operating conditions and monitoring systems.

Source and contact: CRIIRAD (Commission de Recherche et d'Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité), 471 Av. V Hugo, 26000 Valence, France