Since Japan’s Fukushima disaster, countries around the world have been assessing their individual futures with nuclear energy. Japan and Germany are both planning phase-outs, but many other governments are still debating the issue. In the UK, the Royal Society has proposed an innovative solution: construct mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) plant to reuse the country’s large stockpile of separated plutonium as part of a long-term nuclear strategy.
The proposal has been issued to the UK government and would see used plutonium converted into MOX fuel for potential re-use in a new generation of thermal light-water reactors. In essence, the UK would use nuclear waste to create new energy.
“This is the only way of dealing with it which is reliable,” said Roger Cashmore, chair of the Royal Society working group and head of the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority. Considering the alternative is burying it into the earth or moutain storage sites, he has a point.
Unfortunately, the times are changing on the other side of the Atlantic and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority announced several months ago it would close the MOX plant in Sellafield.
The construction of additional MOX power plants would also allow the UK to lead the market in reprocessed fuels, which has grown since Japan shut down its reactors. The UK also has the largest stockpile of separated plutonium in the world at a terrifying 112 tonnes – not only does this pose an environmental risk, but also a security one with nuclear waste being key for the creation of dirty bombs.
If the UK is to meet its 2020 alternative energy targets, then this plan may get strong consideration. But of course, as the government has proposed an additional 16GW of new nuclear capacity by 2025, it is almost definite.