Managing nuclear materials and spent fuels

We need to ensure the safe, secure and cost-effective lifecycle management of nuclear materials and spent fuels.

We need to ensure the safe, secure and cost-effective lifecycle management of nuclear materials and spent fuels. The NDA inventory of spent nuclear fuels is diverse and consists of large quantities of Magnox and oxide fuels, with smaller quantities of non-standard fuel types which we refer to as ‘exotic fuels’.

We are contractually committed to receive and manage all spent fuel arising from the seven EDF Energy AGR power stations in England and Scotland. The UK holds large stocks of civil uranium and plutonium, much of which is managed by the NDA.

Some of the nuclear material managed by the NDA on behalf of customers is foreign owned and remains the responsibility of its owners.

For UK owned plutonium the current government policy is safe and secure storage.


In 2011, informed by our strategic options work, the UK government proposed a preliminary policy view to pursue re-use of UK civil separated plutonium as Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). This would see the vast majority of UK plutonium converted into fuel for use in civil nuclear reactors. Any remaining plutonium unsuitable for conversion into MOX would be immobilised and treated as waste for disposal.

The NDA undertook further work between 2011 and 2013. This focused on continuing to examine reuse of plutonium as MOX and an assessment of alternative reuse proposals (in CANDU or PRISM reactors) offered by two other technology vendors. This work culminated in revised advice to DECC in June 2013 and publication of a position paper in January 2014.

NDA has continued to work with government to develop reuse options along with immobilisation as an alternative approach. Further work is needed to establish conditions so that a decision to implement a preferred option can be confidently made at the right time.

Only when government is confident that its preferred option could be implemented safely and securely, in way that is affordable, deliverable, and offers value for money, will it be in a position to proceed.

  1. Separated plutonium: progress on approaches to management
  2. NDA plutonium position paper February 2011
  3. Plutonium: credible options analysis (redacted)
  4. Uranium and plutonium macro-economic study


The current strategy is for uranic materials to be safely and securely stored indefinitely in existing (or replacement as required) facilities.

Owing to the diverse nature of our uranics inventory there is no single preferred management option for the whole inventory; the preferred option will need to be determined on a group-by-group basis.

The management options are:

  • continued safe and secure storage
  • sale to a third party for recycling and reuse
  • conditioning to an appropriate form for disposal

Continued storage does not provide an end point for this material. Uranics having commercial value be returned to the fuel cycle through sale to a third party.

Work is underway to define how uranic material with no foreseeable resale value could be disposed of to a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) or an alternative facility.

  1. Uranics: credible options summary paper
  2. Storage strategy for NDA owned Uranium Hexafluoride Tails 2010
  3. Uranium and plutonium macro-economic study

Magnox fuels

Irradiated Magnox fuel will be removed from reactor sites and reprocessed in the Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield. This strategy reflects current government policy and is, presently, the only accepted technology for managing spent Magnox fuel.

The current strategy is established, soundly based, mature and being executed at Sellafield and the reactor sites. Its delivery is being managed by means of the Magnox Operating Programme (MOP9).

However, given the age of the facilities involved, there is a risk that plant under-performance or failure may prevent some of the fuel from being reprocessed during the predicted operational life of the existing facilities.

Consequently a contingency strategy is being developed to condition spent Magnox fuel for storage and ultimate disposal in the Geological Disposal Facility. Development of the contingency is being undertaken in accordance with the gated process of the NDA Strategy Management System (SMS).

  1. Magnox Operating Programme (MOP) 9
  2. Magnox fuel strategy: contingency options
  3. Magnox fuel strategy position paper
  4. Spent Fuel Management: Life Cycle Analysis Model 2007

Oxide fuels

In our previous Strategy we committed to undertake a study to determine how much spent fuel we should reprocess in THORP and how we should manage any remaining fuels including future arisings of AGR spent fuel.

We concluded that the delivery of the current strategy – to reprocess the contracted amount of spent fuel in THORP – remains the most viable and cost-effective option and confirmed our position in 2012. Following the closure of THORP in 2018 we plan to place the remaining AGR fuel into interim storage pending conditioning and disposal to a Geological Disposal Facility.

  1. Oxide Fuels - Preferred Option
  2. Oxide Fuel: Credible Options
  3. Oxide Fuel discussion paper
  4. Spent Fuel Management: Life Cycle Analysis Model 2007

Exotic fuels

Exotic fuels are being transferred to Sellafield for management. Where possible the fuels will be treated using existing facilities, for example Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR) fuel is being reprocessed alongside Magnox. Fuels which cannot be treated alongside other material will be safely and securely stored pending development of final disposition options.

Published 8 April 2015