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Sellafield: THORP reprocessing delayed up to 10 years

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 29, 2001) A report by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, including as yet unpublished BNFL documents on Sellafield's radioactive discharges, reveals that overseas customers with reprocessing contracts for THORP have been misled by BNFL into believing that their spent fuel contracts will be completed by March 2005.

(551.5292) CORE - THORP's Baseload contracts amounting to 7000 tonnes of overseas and domestic spent fuel were originally scheduled for completion in March 2004 - the end of the plant's first 10 years of operation. Already angered by BNFL's inability to operate THORP properly, overseas customers have been told by BNFL in recent negotiations that their contracts will be completed one year late, by March 2005 and that additional costs will be imposed on them for THORP's "11th Baseload" year (see WISE News Communique 549.5276: "Sellafield: THORP customers threaten to withdraw from business, discharge levels 20 times German standards").

Concluding that completion of the contracts by March 2005 is unachievable, CORE's report highlights a number of factors currently ranged against THORP which could see the Baseload drag on for up to 10 further years, imposing significant extra costs on overseas customers who are already considering taking legal action against BNFL for breaching the terms of the contracts.

CORE spokesman Martin Forwood: "Customers have been conned by BNFL over the March 2005 date. BNFL has known for several years that amongst other restrictions, increasing problems with discharges and Sellafield's vitrification programme will set the Baseload way back, possibly up to 2015. The prospect of paying through the nose for THORP's continuing failure, through no fault of their own, could well be the last straw for overseas customers."

CORE's report points out that to complete the Baseload by March 2005, THORP must reprocess annually at least 955 tons without any further stoppages, a rate never before achieved. The more realistic figure of 700 tons, confirmed by BNFL as the likely target for the curent year and delaying Baseload completion to late 2006, is itself under threat by other limiting factors.

A leaked BNFL Discharge Review identifies a number of aerial discharges projected to reach or breach existing discharge limits and subsequently restrict operations in THORP and the Waste Vitrification Plant (WVP). For details see and

Published reports by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and the requirement imposed by them recently on BNFL to reduce high level waste stocks, reveal a serious under-capacity at Sellafield to vitrify the wastes from BNFL's intended programme of reprocessing over 1000 tons of Magnox fuel and 955 tons of Oxide fuel over the next few years.

The impending reprocessing in THORP of increased amounts of overseas customers' higher burn-up and shorter cooled fuel, purposely scheduled for the back end of THORP's Baseload because of the extra demands they place on the plant, will compound the discharge and vitrification problems.

CORE's spokesman: "Based on BNFL and NII data, our figures show clearly that BNFL has painted itself into a corner and can't meet both Magnox and Oxide reprocessing programmes in the same year. Something has to be sacrificed somewhere and, as NII has pointed out previously, it will be THORP's programme which will suffer - and could be reduced to around just 170 tons each year. If the true extent of the problems now facing THORP had not been concealed from them, overseas customers would know that completing their contracts by March 2005 is just so much pie in the sky"

The report "BNFL & Reprocessing; The Deception of Customers Continue" by CORE can be downloaded from

Source and contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), 98 Church St, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria LA14 2HJ, UK
Tel: +44 1229 833851; Fax: +44 1229 812239