LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - Britain said it would take ownership of 2,950 kg of waste plutonium that it has been storing on behalf of European utilities and may reprocess it into fuel for a planned new generation of nuclear plants.
The ownership change does not mean that more nuclear fuel will be brought into Britain, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said.
The government wants to recycle the world’s largest civilian stockpile of used plutonium - stored at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria - into MOX fuel for a new generation of plants currently under discussion with France’s EDF and others.
A decision on whether to build a dedicated plant to convert plutonium into MOX fuel is not expected until 2015, a spokesman for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said. Britain’s new reactor fleet is not due to become operational until the 2020s, with launch dates still subject to commercial discussions.
The UK government currently spends 2 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) a year to manage its growing plutonium stockpile.
The radioactive byproduct is found in used or spent fuel when it is removed from a reactor. It can be extracted by reprocessing and can then be reused to make MOX fuel, which can be used to power other nuclear reactors.
“There are advantages to having national control over more of the civil plutonium in the UK as this gives us greater influence over how we ultimately manage it,” Britain’s minister of state for energy, Michael Fallon, said in a statement.
The latest deals, agreed with Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, involve a complex series of swaps to take ownership of 750 kg of German-owned plutonium and 350 kg of Dutch-owned material.
In addition, the state will assume control of 1,850 kg of plutonium previously earmarked to repay to France.
In December 2011 Britain was home to 118.2 tonnes of plutonium, of which 27.9 tonnes is owned by foreign entities, according to the latest available data from the office for nuclear regulation.
DECC declined to say to what extent the ownership transfers benefited UK taxpayers.
Greenpeace did not immediately have any comment.