British Nuclear Fuels is planning to use Britain’s oldest Magnox atomic power station to carry out trials on a different kind of fuel – potentially extending the reactor’s useful life and ending a 40-year ban on using UK commercial nuclear reactors for experiments.
BNFL will seek consent from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) early next year for a proposal to burn enriched oxide fuel, instead of natural uranium metal fuel, in the Calder Hall power station on its Sellafield site.
Enriched fuel is already used in BNFL’s advanced gas-cooled reactors and pressurised water units
A spokesman said BNFL had been looking for some time at the possibility of using enriched oxide fuel in Magnox reactors and wanted to see if it would work.
`We’re planning to do a trial loading at Calder Hall,’ he said.
Using oxide fuel could enable Magnox plants to operate beyond the early years of the next century. It would also create more business for the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield.
Experimental use of commercial reactors has been subject to a voluntary ban since a fire at Sellafield, then called Windscale, in 1958, which resulted from an experiment on the graphite core of the plutonium-producing Windscale piles.
But the NII said licensing regulations allowed experimental work on, and modifications to, working reactors, subject to its approval.