Sweden approves limited MOX use

De europeiske transportene med MOX skal transporteres i slike flasker.
Foto: BNFL

Publish date: December 26, 2002

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

Sellafield-produced MOX-fuel may find its way to Sweden. The Swedish Government has reluctantly given approval to OKG AB to use a limited amount of MOX-fuel in the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant.

Swedish christmas present for Sellafield

The approval gives OKG AB the opportunity to return 850 kilos of plutonium recovered at the Sellafield Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP). According to the contracts between OKG AB and British Nuclear Fuel Ltd (BNFL) the Swedish plutonium will be converted in to MOX fuel in the Sellafield MOX plant (SMP).

The licence is limited and does not mean a changed policy for treatment of Swedish nuclear waste.

Unplanned stoppages
The Swedish plutonium is a product of spent nuclear fuel sent to Sellafield by OKG AB between 1975 and 1982. In the 1980’s the Swedish government subsequently reversed its spent fuel policy of reprocessing in favour of the direct disposal of its spent nuclear fuel.
According to the English environmental organisation CORE, BNFL was alarmed by the Swedish plans in 1996 to have its spent fuel returned to Sweden unreprocessed. BNFL promptly reprocessed all the fuel in 1997, well in advance of its scheduled reprocessing date.

Anyway it will probably take some time before the Swedish MOX-fuel will be shipped to Oskashamn. Despite BNFL’ s best efforts to get SMP into full production in order to meet customer delivery targets, unplanned stoppages have contributed to the plant’s slow commissioning progress. Early statements by BNFL indicated delivery of the first assemblies in January 2003. But when Bellona inspected the plant last week, the first MOX-fuel assemblies was expected in april 2003. SMP was commissioned in December 2001.

Switzerland first
It is still uncertain when the plant will start the production of the Swedish MOX assemblies. The first assemblies are to be sent to Switzerland. Two weeks ago the SMP was forced to a halt because of problems with the constructions of a fuel pin.
Still smarting from the negative publicity surrounding the return shipment of rejected MOX-fuel from Japan to Sellafield this summer, BNFL is planning to ship the new MOX to Europe with reduced levels of safety and security for the dangerous cargo. Instead of using their MOX carriers, Pacific Pintail and Pacific Teal, BNFL are planning to ship MOX to Europe with Atlantic Osprey, a ship bought second-hand by BNFL in 2001 from the German shipping firm Adler & Sohne.

The Atlantic Osprey has few of the safety/security features attributed to BNFL’s MOX carriers. No naval cannon or other armament has been added and unlike the Pacific ships the Atlantic Osprey will travel unescorted around the British coast to Europe. The Atlantic Osprey must rely on a single engine, and has no double hull.

Bellona visit
The Bellona foundation inspected the Sellafield MOX plant last week. Bellona also had meetings with BNFL staff, and discussed different ways of cleaning out Technetium-99 (Tc-99) from the discharges. The British environmental minister Michael Meacher have instructed the Environmental Agency to find out if it is possible to put a moratorium on the Tc-99 discharges.

Bellona also visited the tanks where BNFL store vast amounts of Tc-99 contaminated liquid waste. The tanks was constructed in 1951 and was once part of the secret British weapons programme. Today there are about 2000 cubic metres of radioactive liquid waste in the tanks, containing about 200 Terrabecquereles of Tc-99.