Written statement to Parliament

Statement by Michael Fallon: Management of overseas owned plutonium in the UK

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

Written Ministerial Statement by Michael Fallon MP, Minister of State for energy.

The Rt Hon Sir Michael  Fallon MP

In December 2011 the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published its response to the consultation on Plutonium Management.

The response said that government’s preferred option was to reuse plutonium as mixed oxide fuel (MOX). It noted that while government believes it has sufficient information to set out a direction, it cannot yet make a specific decision to proceed with procuring a new MOX plant. If a satisfactory means of implementation cannot be found then the way forward may need to be revised.

In addition the government said that overseas owners of plutonium stored in the UK could have that plutonium managed in line with UK plutonium, subject to commercial terms that are acceptable to the UK government. In addition, subject to compliance with inter-governmental agreements and acceptable commercial arrangements, the UK is prepared to take ownership of overseas plutonium stored in the UK as a result of which it would be treated in with the same way as UK-owned plutonium. The government considers that there are advantages to having national control over more of the civil plutonium in the UK, as this gives us greater influence over how we ultimately manage it.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has agreed to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA):

  1. Participating in a series of swaps of plutonium material which will result in the NDA taking ownership of around 750 kg of plutonium stored in the UK, previously owned by certain German utilities.

  2. Facilitating a swap of plutonium ownership between Japanese and German utilities which will result in a decrease of about 650 kg of German owned plutonium in the UK and an equivalent increase in Japanese owned plutonium in the UK.

  3. Taking ownership to around 1850 kg plutonium that was originally allocated to repay plutonium loans (to France) in relation to historic MOX fuel subcontracts.

  4. Taking ownership of around 350 kg of material previously owned by a Dutch Utility.

These transactions, which have been agreed by the Euratom Supply Agency, will not result in any new plutonium being brought into the UK and will not therefore increase the overall amount of plutonium in the UK, but will enable a net reduction in the total amount of separated plutonium stored in Europe through it being used as fuel in nuclear reactors.

We have agreed to these transactions as they offer a cost effective and beneficial arrangement, which: removes the need to transport separated plutonium to France; allows the UK to gain national control over more of the civil plutonium in the UK; enables German utilities to receive MOX fuel ahead of the German national reactor shut down programme; and enables an outstanding loan agreement with France to be settled.

In line with the DECC policy statement, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is engaging with other third parties regarding taking ownership of further overseas plutonium in the UK arising from overseas reprocessing contracts. As well as UK government approval, these transactions will require consent from the relevant overseas governments and regulatory bodies, and thereafter Euratom Supply Agency agreement, before any contracts are enacted.

The UK 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 Annual figures for holdings of civil unirradiated plutonium web page.

This data will be updated in due course to reflect the changes described above.

Published 23 April 2013