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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK


BNFL denies US fuel import plan

BNFL's Sellafield plant in Cumbria: A suitable place for US spent fuel?

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The state-owned company British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) says a report that it plans to import 2,400 spent fuel elements from the US is "an old story".

BBC Science Correspondent Susan Watts: "How do you get rid of unwanted nuclear waste? Send it to Britain"
The report, by Friends of the Earth (FoE), says BNFL "is in top secret talks with a group of US nuclear utilities" to import the fuel. FoE identifies the group as "nuclear giant Yankee (Yankee Atomic Electric, Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power, and Maine Yankee Atomic Power)".

"BNFL has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep these discussions secret," said FoE.

It claims a request was made to keep BNFL's name out of any documentation left with the US Government. FoE says the news will be "a major embarrassment to the [UK] Government, and particularly to Energy Minister John Battle".

A problem exported

On 8 July, 1998, he said: "BNFL has made clear publicly that American nuclear wastes will be dealt with in the United States".

[ image: The Thorp reprocessing plant at Sellafield]
The Thorp reprocessing plant at Sellafield
The FoE report says: "The main motive for foreign utilities to export their spent nuclear fuel to Britain is to shift or defer their problems in managing nuclear waste."

It says the information it has received shows that "the primary purpose of bringing the spent fuel to Britain is to solve the US utilities' nuclear waste crisis."

BNFL told BBC News Online: "We had very exploratory discussions with the Maine Yankee plant but declined to make any kind of formal offer to them.

"We have not signed a contract. In addition, UK Government policy would not allow the import of spent fuel other than for reprocessing."

'Door left open'

But a statement by the company dated 25 January, 1998, says: "BNFL has been aware of the problems faced by US utilities in terms of storage of spent nuclear fuel for some time".

"Using reprocessing facilities to provide interim storage and conditioning of spent fuel would be one solution to the storage problems currently being experienced by some utility companies in the US."

Noting that there was at the time "no new proposal, agreement or contract either pending or in the pipeline", the statement's conclusion left the door open.

"BNFL Inc will be pleased to respond to further inquiries for information about reprocessing services."

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