UK Approves MOX Nuclear Fuel Manufacturing Plant

LONDON, United Kingdom, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - The UK government today approved operation of the controversial mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Sellafield, drawing immediate threats of legal action by environmental groups.

Designed to turn uranium and plutonium from spent fuel into new reactor rods, the MOX plant was completed in 1996 but never started. Operator British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. has been fighting an increasingly bitter battle to win operating approval since its commercial reputation was savaged in 1999 by a data falsification scandal.


Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett (Photo courtesy UK government)
The government announced that the manufacture of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel is justified under European Community law. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, and the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, made this decision after considering all the relevant information, including the comments received in response to the five public consultations which have been carried out since 1997.

Britain's environment and health ministries today concluded that operating the plant would produce a net financial benefit, as required under a 1996 Euratom directive. Over the plant's lifetime, they said, the "net present value" of this benefit would be over UKú150 million (US$221.6 million).

The environment ministry added that "wider risks and benefits" had also been taken into account in reaching the decision. Regarding environmental impacts, radiation doses to the most exposed members of the public are put at 0.002 microsieverts per year for discharges to air and 0.00003 microsieverts per year for liquid discharges, or "around one-millionth of the dose from natural background radiation."


Roundness measurement being performed on an experimental MOX fuel pellet in a BNFL lab. (Photo courtesy BNFL)
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth both threatened legal action against the government today, calling the decision "dangerously irresponsible" and "outrageous."

Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace in the UK said, "Expanding the global trade in plutonium is dangerously irresponsible, especially at a time of huge global insecurity. The Prime Minister recently acknowledged that terrorists might obtain and use nuclear weapons, which makes his move today to launch an export business in bomb-making materials both inconsistent and downright stupid."

The approval of a new plutonium fuel facility at the Sellafield nuclear complex "will increase the risk of terrorists seizing weapons usable material," Greenpeace warns.

Both groups also claim that the government had ignored hidden costs and commercial uncertainties in deciding that operating the MOX plant would bring a net financial benefit.

Of the 9,000 or so responses received in total to the five consultations which have been carried out since 1997, around 7,000 were in favor of the MOX plant approval and around 2,000 were against the proposals from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL), government officials said.

BNFL's Chief Executive Norman Askew said, "I'm highly delighted with today's decision by the Government. I am especially grateful to all those dedicated people within BNFL who have worked for so long for this outcome. Our customers have been extremely patient with us and we can now get on with the business of manufacturing fuel for them and to repay the commitment that they have shown us."


{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email:}