Plutonium deal brings commercial opportunity and security benefits

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

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has taken ownership of an amount of German plutonium, by participating in a series of title swaps, as …

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has taken ownership of an amount of German plutonium, by participating in a series of title swaps, as part of a commercial deal which will bring financial benefit to the UK and enhance international nuclear security.

The deal will make German utilities’ plutonium available in France for manufacture into mixed oxide fuel for use in German reactors. This will improve security, as it removes the need for the UK to physically transport plutonium previously owned by German utilities from Sellafield to France.

The UK will deal with the plutonium in return for financial benefits, which exceed the long-term costs for the safe storage and management of the material

The commercial agreement reached will not result in any additional plutonium being brought into the UK and will not increase the overall amount in the UK, representing four tonnes of the 118 tonnes of separated material stored in the country, most of which is held at Sellafield.

The deal will enhance nuclear security across Europe as it will mean a net reduction in the total amount of separated plutonium in storage, as it allows German nuclear operators to turn it into fuel for use in their existing reactors.

The arrangements, which have been approved by the Euratom Supply Agency, are the subject of commercial agreements between the NDA, German utilities and AREVA NC.

Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy, said:

“The agreement reached reduces the need to transport plutonium and the overall amount of plutonium in Europe and therefore improves our security.”

“The management of plutonium brings many challenges, but also opportunities to work with our European partners. This deal provides a new commercial opportunity for the UK that will bring significant financial benefits”.

Notes for editors:

  1. The Written Ministerial Statement from Charles Hendry is available on the DECC website
  2. The UK holds 118 tonnes of plutonium and has committed to publish annual figures for national holdings of civil plutonium at the end of each calendar year to improve transparency and public confidence. The most recent data can be found on the HSE website 
  3. The UK Government has concluded that for nuclear security reasons the preferred policy for managing the vast majority of UK civil separated plutonium is reuse and it should therefore be converted to MOX fuel for use in civil nuclear reactors. While the UK Government believes that it has sufficient information to set out this policy direction, it is not yet sufficient to make a specific decision whether to proceed with procuring a new MOX plant. The UK Government is now commencing the next phase of work, which includes the recently published consultation on the proposed justification process for the reuse of plutonium, which will provide the information necessary to make such a decision.
  4. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is a non-departmental public body created through the Energy Act 2004. It is a strategic authority that owns 19 sites and the associated civil nuclear liabilities and assets of the public sector, previously under the control of UKAEA and BNFL.
  5. The exact details of the agreements between the NDA, German utilities and AREVA NC are subject to commercial and security sensitivities.