The UK government is trying to resurrect plutonium-powered reactors despite abandoning a multi-billion bid to make them work in Scotland. Documents released by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) under freedom of information law reveal that fast reactors, which can burn and breed plutonium, are among “advanced nuclear technologies” being backed by UK ministers. Two experimental fast reactors were built and tested at a cost of £4 billion over four decades at Dounreay in Caithness. But the programme was closed in 1994 as uneconomic after a series of accidents and leaks. Now ONR has been funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London to boost its capacity to regulate new designs of fast reactors, along with other advanced nuclear technologies. Campaigners have condemned the moves to rehabilitate plutonium as a nuclear fuel as “astronomically expensive”, “disastrous” and “mind-boggling”. They point out that it can be made into nuclear bombs and is highly toxic – and the UK has 140 tonnes of it. But the nuclear industry says that plutonium-fuelled fast reactors can produce “safe, low-carbon power”. UK government nuclear scientists support the idea, arguing that plutonium reactors can “minimise waste volumes”. ONR released 23 documents about advanced nuclear technologies in response to a freedom of information request by Dr David Lowry, a London-based research fellow at the US Institute for Resource and Security Studies. They include redacted minutes and notes of meetings from 2019 discussing fast reactors, and are being published by The Ferret. One note of a meeting in November 2019 shows that ONR attempted to access a huge database on fast reactors maintained by the UK government’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in Warrington, Cheshire.
The Ferret 26th April 2020 read more »
The National 26th April 2020 read more »