Closure of Sellafield MOX Plant Announced

By Mycle Schneider

As yet another consequence of the unfolding Fukushima crisis, the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced today the closure of Britain's only commercial MOX fuel fabrication facility "at the earliest practical opportunity." The decision comes hardly more than a year after a fuel fabrication deal struck with ten Japanese utilities was seen as a "huge opportunity" for the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP). In fact, the Japanese were the plant's only remaining customers and it is now hard to imagine, at least in the short term, any Japanese operator to load the controversial plutonium fuel into any reactor. Fukushima Daiichi 3 was one of three Japanese units that were loaded with some MOX fuel.

SMP never operated anywhere near expectations. The nominal capacity was lowered in 2006 from 120 to 40 tons per year because of production line faults. However, real throughput never even reached that modest level. Between 2002 and 2010 only a little over 13 tons of fuel were fabricated (5.25 tons or 16 assemblies for the Swiss Beznau plant and 8 tons or 16 assemblies for the German Grohnde plant). Since then, the plant had been under refurbishment. Compared to the original design capacity, the performance of SMP cumulates a lifetime load factor of 1.2%.

The SMP's operator NDA subsidiary Sellafield Ltd was "extremely disappointed" about the closure decision, but recognized that "the recent tragic events in Japan have left the NDA with no other option."

Rockingham, 3 August 2011