A new report by Martin Forwood, Gordon MacKerron and William Walker assesses the operational and political history, legacies and lessons of Britain’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP), which is now undergoing a clean-out prior to its final shutdown. In the first part of “Endless Trouble: Britain’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP)” (PDF), Martin Forwood (who died in 2019) and Gordon MacKerron look at THORP’s justification as part of Britain’s plans for its nuclear energy program, technology development and economic growth, and the plant’s actual operating experience after it was completed in 1992. The amount of domestic and foreign spent nuclear fuel that was treated, the plutonium separated, and the plant’s economics, all proved to be far below what had been expected by its advocates. The failure of the Sellafield MOX Plant to produce mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear power reactors using plutonium from THORP contributed to the UK now having the largest civilian plutonium stockpile in the world, which needs to be safely stored and managed. There is no clear path for disposition of this plutonium, which is expected to take a long time and be costly. THORP also has left a large and expensive decommissioning challenge and the need to find ways to manage the remaining spent nuclear fuel at the site.
International Panel on Fissile Materials 23rd Dec 2019 read more »