Sellafield to close as Japan cuts its nuclear facilities
The UK's only plant for processing plutonium into new fuel for nuclear reactors is to close as a result of the Japanese tsunami, threatening hundreds of jobs, it was announced yesterday.
The MOX site at Sellafield in Cumbria, which employs 800 workers, only had customers in Japan, where reactors have been shut down after the devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.
Anti-nuclear campaigners said the plant had cost the public £1.4bn (€1.6m) in construction and running costs since building started in the mid-1990s, while union leaders described the closure of the plant as "ill-conceived and short-sighted".
Friends of the Earth's policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said taxpayers were footing the bill for the "Alice-in-Wonderland economics" of the nuclear industry."
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said there had been a "changed risk profile" for the Sellafield Mox Plant (SMP) following the Japanese disaster which crippled the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
"In order to ensure that the UK taxpayer does not carry a future financial burden from SMP the only reasonable course of action is to close SMP at the earliest practical opportunity.
"The NDA will work closely with Sellafield Limited in order to, where possible, mitigate the employment impacts from this decision, including the potential for redeployment given the level of activity planned across the site over coming years in the new Sellafield Plan."
Following news of the closure, shadow energy and climate change secretary Meg Hillier called on the government to make a swift announcement on proposals to build a new MOX plant to process UK stocks of plutonium.
She said a decision was needed to send a signal to investors that the UK was committed to the nuclear industry and a new fleet of reactors, and to secure jobs.
The government launched a consultation earlier this year into whether the best solution for UK stocks of civil plutonium, created by past nuclear power generation and housed at Sellafield and Dounreay, was to reuse it as a fuel.
The consultation looked at the possibility of building a new MOX plant, potentially at Sellafield, because it would be a cheaper option than using the existing facility which was beset by operational difficulties in the past.
Ms Hillier said: "The government needs to announce promptly what it's going to do.
"One would hope it's going to back a new MOX plant and I can't see why they wouldn't put it at Sellafield given the expertise already there. It would be crazy to start all over again."
Officials said they would be making an announcement on the plans "in due course".
Former chief scientist Professor Sir David King has recommended recycling used nuclear fuels to generate more power as a way of offsetting the costs of cleaning up the legacy of the UK's ageing nuclear power plants.
His study, whose publication was delayed by two weeks by the crisis at the Fukushima plant, said that the legacy of the old plants needed to be dealt with alongside a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, welcomed the closure, saying: "This hopefully marks the long-overdue end of a dangerous and expensive mistake.
"The whole idea of shipping hundreds of tonnes of plutonium-rich spent fuel half way round the world from Japan was madness from the start. Just 11kg of plutonium is enough to make a bomb, so to build a whole business on its transport across thousands of miles of sea on lightly-armed civilian ships was a disaster waiting to happen."