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Charles Hendry Written Ministerial Statement on nuclear energy matters

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will today publish two documents that further demonstrate the Government’s commitment to …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will today publish two documents that further demonstrate the Government’s commitment to managing our existing nuclear legacy and sites in a responsible manner.

  • the conclusions of its consultation on the long term management of UK-owned separated civil plutonium and:
  • our response to the recommendations for Government contained in the Chief Nuclear Inspector’s final report on events at the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan that was published on 11th October 2011.

Management of the UK’s plutonium stocks

The consultation was published in February and set out for public scrutiny Government’s preliminary view on the long-term management of the UK’s plutonium. In particular, the consultation covered the security and proliferation sensitivities associated with continued storage of plutonium, and how these could best be managed in the interests of future generations.

The consultation document made it clear that, although there remain many issues to be resolved before any policy could be implemented, the UK Government believed that there was sufficient information available to make a high level judgement as to the right strategic policy option for plutonium management. The Government therefore proposed a preliminary policy view to pursue reuse of plutonium as mixed oxide fuel (MOX); converting the vast majority of UK civil separated plutonium into fuel for use in civil nuclear reactors. Any remaining plutonium whose condition is such that it cannot be converted into MOX, will be immobilised and treated as a waste for disposal.

Having considered all responses received during the consultation period the UK Government has concluded that it has identified the right preliminary view. Accordingly, the Government confirms this as the preferred policy. While the UK Government believes it has sufficient information to set out a direction, it is not yet sufficient to make a specific decision to proceed with procuring a new MOX plant. Only when the Government is confident that its preferred option could be implemented safely and securely, that is affordable, deliverable, and offers value for money, will it be in a position to proceed with a new MOX plant. If we cannot establish a means of implementation that satisfies these conditions then the way forward may need to be revised.

The Government is now commencing the next phase of work, which will provide the information required to make such a decision. The next steps towards will see further information being gathered by the Government and NDA through detailed commercial discussions on the market for MOX fuel and the availability of reactors in which it can be burned. Other discussions will focus on detailing the costs and timescales for procuring services or facilities, including a suitable MOX plant, which can be delivered at minimum risk to Government.

Further workstreams will take forward the requirements for the Justification of the whole MOX path from fabrication, through use to disposal, which will be required before UK Government can commit to spending significant capital on procuring a new MOX fabrication plant.

In addition the Government has concluded that overseas owners of plutonium stored in the UK could, subject to commercial terms that are acceptable to UK Government, have their plutonium managed alongside UK plutonium, in line with a reuse policy. Where appropriate and subject to compliance with inter-governmental agreements and commercial arrangements that again, are acceptable to Government , the UK would be prepared to take ownership of overseas plutonium stored in the UK after which it would be managed alongside UK plutonium, again in line with a reuse policy.

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

Copies of the consultation response have been placed in Libraries of the House or can be obtained from the DECC website.

Weightman report on events at the Fukushima nuclear site

I welcome the findings and recommendations in Dr Weightman’s report and commend him and his team on the important work that they have undertaken in pulling together information and lessons from the events in Japan.

In the response the Government sets out work we have done or intend to do in implementing Dr Weightman’s recommendations, including:

  • Continuing to work with our international partners on nuclear safety, particularly through the development of the IAEA Director General’s “Action Plan”.
  • Taking forward work from the Nuclear Emergency Planning Liaison Group review of the UK’s national nuclear emergency arrangements in light of the experience of dealing with the prolonged Japanese event.
  • Ensuring that openness and transparency are enshrined in the work we are taking forward to create the ONR as a statutory body

Copies of the Government response have been placed in Libraries of the House or can be obtained from the DECC website.

Published 1 December 2011