British Nuclear Fuels has been allowed to resume operations at its £3bn Sellafield Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant – but only to process fuel from advanced gas-cooled reactors.
This comprises about a third of the 7,000 tonnes Thorp is scheduled to reprocess in its first 10 years of operation, casting serious doubts on BNFL’s ability to reach its reprocessing target, and on the commercial viability of the plant.
Thorp’s operations were closed down at the end of last year following a blockage caused by the zirconium cladding of pressurised water reactor and other light water reactor fuels.
BNFL will have to make a separate case to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to resume reprocessing of these fuels.
A spokeswoman said the company had set up test rigs to examine transfer mechanisms for the fragments of zirconium responsible for the problem.
She added that Thorp has embarked on a programme of advanced gas-cooled reactor fuel reprocessing, which would involve about 500 tonnes and would keep the plant fully occupied until October.