The United Kingdom’s last plutonium reprocessing plant, B205, located in Sellafield in northern England, will shut down by the end of 2020. It will bring an end to the era of plutonium separation in the country, which began 68 years ago. Because the United Kingdom never used any of the material it recouped from reprocessing except in nuclear weapons, today it has amassed a stockpile of almost 139 metric tons of separated plutonium. This creates lasting problems: Plutonium stored in Sellafield is highly toxic and poses a permanent risk of proliferation. It is enough material to build tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. According to parliamentary estimates, storage will cost the British government about 73 million pounds a year for the next century. But after decades of public and private consultation, there is still no accepted plan for its disposition. In the meantime, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is working on the consolidation of the stockpiles in Sellafield and developing the capability to retreat the packages to allow for long-term storage once the government makes a final decision on permanent disposal. The United Kingdom views the material as a resource and is pursuing options that involve burning the plutonium in reactors, even though multiple assessments have shown risks associated with such a choice, namely immature concepts and technology. A better alternative would be to treat it as waste and begin planning for its permanent immobilization and burial.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 17th April 2020 read more »