UK "short-sighted" on nuclear policies

The UK government’s strategy for nuclear power has been damned as “short-sighted” by the Royal Society. Researchers at the scientific academy said in a recent report that the Government needs […]

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By Vicky Ellis

The UK government’s strategy for nuclear power has been damned as “short-sighted” by the Royal Society. Researchers at the scientific academy said in a recent report that the Government needs to plan how the UK’s spent nuclear fuel is used, rather than treat it as an “afterthought”.

The UK is embarking on a programme of new nuclear, with four power plants due in the next decade from French supplier EDF Energy and other groups such as NuGen looking to start projects in the UK too. With these projects in the pipeline, the Royal Society says that the government urgently needs to flesh out a long-term strategy. The report picks out the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste as an area that needs major thought put into it.

The UK has the world’s largest civil stockpile of plutonium in the world. Debate has raged over whether to safely dispose of this spent fuel as waste or to use it to make mixed-oxide fuel (MOX), as has been done at the Sellafield plant.

To carry out the second option, the UK would need a new plant built as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority recently announced that the current Sellafield facility will be closing.

Roger Cashmore FRS, Chair of the Royal Society working group and Head of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, said: “The last time any UK government articulated a coherent long term plan for nuclear power was in 1955. We need to ensure that government and industry work together now to develop a long-term, holistic strategy for nuclear power in the UK.

“This must encompass the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from fresh fuel manufacture to disposal. Indeed, spent fuel can no longer be an afterthought and governments worldwide need to face up to this issue.”

DECC responded that its new nuclear operators would have to meet the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management and disposal costs.

A DECC spokesman added: “Dealing with our nuclear legacy is an absolute priority. We have increased spending on nuclear decommissioning, we work actively on the international stage to raise global standards on security, safety and non-proliferation and we will be setting out our policy for managing the UK plutonium stocks shortly.”