Greenpeace calls for closure of THORP nuclear plant to be brought forward

Concerns raised about Sellafield 'clean up' leading to increase in radioactive discharges to Irish Sea

Press release - 26 August, 2003
Greenpeace today said that British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) plans to close the THORP - thermal oxide reprocessing plant- at Sellafield by 2010, bringing its end forward by 14 years, do not go far enough.

They urged BNFL to bring THORP's closure forward by allowing British Energy (BE) to store spent fuel from its nuclear plants, rather than forcing them to reprocess it. BE last year attempted to pull out of reprocessing contracts with BNFL in order to save funds but were prevented from doing so by BNFL.

'Bringing forward the closure of THORP may sound good,' said Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Jean McSorley, 'but this plan hides the fact that the plant could close even earlier, probably around 2006, if British Energy was allowed to store their spent nuclear fuel rather than being made to reprocess it. That would mean less radioactive waste being created and less radioactive discharges into the environment.'

Greenpeace also said that it would be watching BNFL's 'clean up' work at the Sellafield site very carefully to ensure it does not lead to an increase in radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea.

Jean McSorley continued, 'the term clean up sounds very nice - but BNFL has failed to say how it will deal with the radioactive materials they clean up. We will be watching very carefully to check that it applies the 'concentrate and contain' principle to radioactive waste from the site, rather than just opting to pump more radioactive wastes out into the sea'.

Greenpeace also attacked suggestions by BNFL Director Mike Watson that a new nuclear reactor should be built on the Sellafield site, to burn 'MOX' plutonium/uranium fuel. (1) MOX fuel is highly contentious because experts believe it can be used to make low grade nuclear weapons and also because of the highly radioactive and toxic waste created by its production and use.

McSorley said, 'Using MOX in reactors is just another dangerous scheme from a company that has a history of loss making and hazardous activities. That is got it so wrong over THORP should act as a warning that it is not be trusted in the future. MOX reactors may reduce the plutonium stockpile, but they also create more spent fuel that has to be dealt with'.

At the recent meeting of European Environment Ministers in Germany, the UK delegation raised the possibility of increased discharges from clean up of Sellafield and the matter will be on the agenda for future talks of the Radioactive Substances Committee of the Oslo-Paris Convention.

Notes: (1) source: '£1.8bn Thorp plant that promised limitless electricity to close by 2010' article in the Guardian newspaper, 26th August 2003.Internationally the majority of spent nuclear fuel is not reprocessed.When THORP opened in 1994 it was claimed it would deal with 7000 tonnes of spent fuel, from secure orders within the first ten years. The company also claimed there would be a significant amount of extra reprocessing work in addition to the baseload contracts. THORP has reprocessed little over 4000 of the 7000 tonne baseload and is running at least three years behind schedule. THORP's throughput is limited by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to around 50% of design throughput as the company has been unable to achieve waste vitrification to deal with the amount of liquid High Level Wastes procued by the plant. Designed to reprocess over 1000 tonnes per year, THORP was limited to just 500 tonnes last year.BNFL posted losses of $1 bn for the financial year ending 2003.