The Independent - 5 Mar 97

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 3 Sep 09)

Letter: Plutonium Plant Spells More Waste

Wednesday, 5 March 1997

Sir: The Environment Agency has invited public comment on the proposal by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to commission and operate the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) with submissions to be received at their Lancaster office by 7 April.

The £ 300m facility for fabricating mixed-oxide (uranium and plutonium) assemblies should not have been built in the first place. The concept has never been properly debated in a public forum, nor have local authorities been consulted about the safety implications.

The nuclear industry has been vigorously promoting the burning of plutonium in conventional reactors as a means of dealing with the increasing stockpiles of civil plutonium and excess military plutonium from the United States and Russia. BNFL, in particular, has attempted to steal the nuclear disarmers' clothes with its "swords into ploughshares" claims in an attempt to gain public support for MOX.

However, only 5 per cent, or less, of the MOX fabrication will be plutonium, with fresh, not recycled, uranium accounting for at least 95 per cent of the fuel. It also appears that two-thirds of the assemblies in a reactor will contain no plutonium at all. It is likely, therefore, that more plutonium will be created than burnt up.

No waste management strategy has been identified for the spent MOX fuel and we have been informed that it could not be dealt with in THORP without major modifications; will yet another reprocessing plant be built at Sellafield and yet more plutonium separated?

BNFL should never have been permitted to add to the plutonium stockpile by starting reprocessing in THORP. Plutonium is a dangerous liability, not an energy asset, and all reprocessing, civil as well as military, should be halted.

MOX is little more than the next technical fix for an ailing nuclear industry which is intended to tie more countries into the next stage of the "plutonium economy". It will increase concerns about nuclear accidents and weapons proliferation. Ultimately, it can only add to the growing legacy of nuclear detritus awaiting a long-term plan for its management.

Dr. FRANK BARNABY SHAUN BURNIE (Greenpeace International)
MARTIN FORWOOD (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment)
Dr. MARTIN HEMINGWAY (Chair Nuclear-Free Local Authorities)
Penrith, Cumbria