The UK Atomic Energy Authority told the Government three months ago that further commercial reprocessing at Dounreay was not economically viable, The Engineer has learned.
Energy minister John Battle faced hostile questions in the Commons last week, following his statement the previous Friday that the Government has decided the plant should not accept further contracts for such work.
However, the board of the UKAEA recommended this to the Government at the end of March. This followed an internal three-month review of the international market for reprocessing highly enriched irradiated fuels, rather than that from commercial thermal reactors. It showed the market could provide Dounreay with a maximum £25m of business over the next 10 years.
‘This would have given us a profit of £10m, but to achieve that we would have had to invest about £30m in the plants,’ said a spokesman. ‘We took a decision on commercial grounds.’
Since 1994, he said the authority had made a profit of only £3m from the contract reprocessing of spent fuels.
The £30m investment would have been in addition to the £20m-plus the authority will need to spend on a new dissolver for the plant that could reprocess about 15 tonnes of irradiated fuel from the two prototype fast reactors at Dounreay, the larger, more recent of which closed in 1994.
Battle said last week that he expected the UKAEA to continue reprocessing these ‘existing spent fuel liabilities’ with less than one tonne of further fuel that was subject to binding contracts up to 2006, after which the reprocessing plant would itself be decommissioned. But the authority spokesman said a final decision had not been taken.
The key factor is likely to be how much it will cost to get approval from the Nuclear Installations Ins- pectorate for the resumption of reprocessing, which could not happen for another two years at the earliest. At the beginning of the year the NII identified engineering deficiencies in all the fuel-cycle plants on the Dounreay site.
The watchdog is carrying out a safety audit of the site and investigating a 12-hour power failure last month.