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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK


Sci/Tech

Foreign nuclear reprocessing 'costs UK a fortune'

BNFL reprocesses spent nuclear fuel from other countries

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Hundreds of millions of pounds would be saved if British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) stopped the reprocessing of spent fuel from Germany, says a report commissioned by Friends of the Earth (FoE).

FoE say the report shows that "continued reprocessing could cost a fortune as well as damage the environment".

The report's authors are Mike Sadnicki and Fred Barker, both members of the UK government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, and Gordon McKerron, head of the energy programme at Sussex University. All have written in their personal capacities.

German nuclear fuel

The report says current plans will mean the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp), at BNFL's Sellafield works, will reprocess 1,363 tonnes of spent German fuel. About 718 tonnes of this total is still in Germany.

The authors say it would be far cheaper for both countries to stop reprocessing at the end of this year, ship no more fuel to Britain, and return to Germany the spent fuel already at Sellafield after a period of storage.

They say that would save up to £460 million in current year prices.

The report says the saving could be £526m if the German fuel already at Sellafield was stored in Britain until it could be disposed of here, with "a radiologically equivalent amount of vitrified high level waste" being returned to Germany.

No travelling

This would respect the principle that each country should be responsible for its own pollution, while saving transport and other charges.

The report suggests that Britain and Germany could split whatever savings were made, with BNFL using its share to invest in new techniques and plant to manage existing nuclear waste.

Friends of the Earth have consistently opposed reprocessing on the grounds that it will simply increase the amount of radioactive waste that will have to be managed into the far distant future.

They argue that it would be safer to store unprocessed fuel until a reliable way is found to dispose of it completely.

Further savings

FoE sees scope for even bigger savings if other countries' reprocessing contracts were also renegotiated.

"The German results are sufficiently robust that further large cost savings can be confidently anticipated.

"In particular, preliminary estimates suggest that cost savings of up to £571m might be possible by ending reprocessing of Japanese spent fuel in Thorp."

When the German Government sought earlier this year to end its reprocessing contract with BNFL, the Trade Secretary, Stephen Byers, said he would take action to secure compensation.

He argued that reprocessing would protect jobs and boost the British economy.



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