POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Managing the UK Plutonium Stockpile

Published Thursday, September 1, 2016

This POSTnote describes the state of the plutonium stockpile, current plutonium policy and the options for managing the plutonium: indefinite storage, reuse in UK power plants, conversion to fuel to send overseas and disposal as waste. It then outlines the safety, security, economic and energy policy implications of these options.

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Plutonium

The UK has been amassing its plutonium stockpile since the 1950s, but is yet to make a decision on its long term management.

The key points in this POSTnote are:

  • The UK is storing the largest 'separated' civil plutonium stockpile in the world. This poses safety, security and cost challenges.
  • The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is assessing long term options for managing the stockpile with industry pushing for a timetable for the selection and delivery of an option.
  • Options include disposal of the plutonium in a treated form, reusing it as fuel in UK power plants or sending plutonium overseas in fuel form.
  • These options all reduce some of the safety and security concerns associated with storage, but they introduce their own risks.
  • Energy policy goals would be helped by one option: reusing the plutonium as fuel in UK power plants.
  • It is not currently clear which of the options offers the best economic value for money.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Sylvian Esperou du Tremblay - Areva
  • Tony Morris - Candu
  • Laurence Williams - Committee on Radioactive Waste Management
  • Francis Livens - Dalton Institute
  • Department of Energy and Climate Change (now BEIS)
  • Colin Hardman - Environment Agency
  • David Powell - GE Power and Water
  • Doug Parr - Greenpeace
  • Fiona Rayment - National Nuclear Laboratory
  • Office for Nuclear Regulation
  • Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • Peter Haslam and Rachel Dowling - Nuclear Industry Association
  • David Lowry - Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates
  • Cherry Tweed and Sarah Read - Radioactive Waste Management Ltd
  • Craig Dobson - Unite
  • Bruce Hanson - University of Leeds
  • Neil Hyatt - University of Sheffield
  • Stephen Tindale - Weinberg Foundation

POSTnotes POST-PN-0531

Authors: Laura Cadman; Aaron Goater

Topics: Arms control, Energy, Nuclear power, Science, Waste management

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.