Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust: Dealing with Radioactive Waste

By Luther J. Carter | Go to book overview

7
The United Kingdom: Problems of Containment

The United Kingdom's nuclear waste problem can be best examined by looking at British Nuclear Fuels Limited's reprocessing center on the Irish Sea not far south of the Firth of Solway, the broad estuary that separates northwest England from the south of Scotland. All of the spent fuel from British reactors--and hence nearly all of the radioactivity-- fetches up at this center. Not only do several major kinds of waste arise here, but the greater part of the collective dose of radiation from commercial nuclear power to which the British public has been exposed has come from here.

The River Calder flows through the center, with the Windscale fuel reprocessing facility just to the north of the river and the Calder Hall power reactors just to the south. Construction of nuclear facilities at this site began in the early postwar years with the original plutoniumproduction reactors, or "piles." In 1956 the first of the Calder Hall reactors came on line and produced the first nuclear power for the commercial grid. From that time on the center assumed a key role not only in Britain's nuclear weapons program, but also in its emerging nuclear energy program, and especially in the reprocessing of fuel from magnox reactors.1

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1
Today there are eleven magnox reactors. This reactor takes its name from its magnesium-alloy-clad natural uranium fuel. Without reprocessing and the recycling of the remaining fissile U-235 isotopes, the magnox would be a grossly inefficient uranium burner because of the fuel's low burnup or irradiation. Even with uranium recycling as part of the magnox program, this reactor, with its low power density (or large size in relation to the power produced), is considered obsolete. Britain's second-generation reactor is the advanced gas-cooled reactor ( AGR), of which there are eight; the burnup of the AGR's slightly enriched uranium oxide fuel is greater than that of the magnox fuel, but much less than that of light water reactor fuel. The Central Electric Generating Board proposes to build Britain's first light water reactor in Suffolk at Sizewell. In the early fall of 1986 the fate of the Sizewell project, which is controversial on economic and other grounds, was still undecided, but the report from a public inquiry was expected at any time.

-235-

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Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust: Dealing with Radioactive Waste
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1 - Sources of Public Unease 7
  • 1 - Containment 9
  • 2 - A Technology Ahead of Itself 41
  • 3 - The Reprocessing Dilemma 91
  • Part 2 - Searching for a Waste Policy 127
  • 4 - Policy Struggles in the Bureaucracy 129
  • 5 - Conflict in the Host States 145
  • 6 - The Nuclear Waste Policy Act 195
  • Part 3 - Europe, Japan, and the International Waste Problem 231
  • Introduction to Part 3 233
  • 7 - The United Kingdom: Problems of Containment 235
  • 8 - Germany: Wastes, Fuel Cycle Choice, and Politics 265
  • Conclusion 288
  • 9 - Sweden: Robust Solutions 289
  • Conclusion 306
  • 10 - France: Commitment to Plutonium Fuel 307
  • Conclusion 333
  • 11 - Japan, the Pacific, and the Nuclear Allergy 335
  • Conclusion 367
  • 12 - Transnational Problems and the Need for Multinational Solutions 369
  • Conclusion 396
  • Part 4 - A Time to Act 399
  • 13 - Common Ground 401
  • Glossary, Acronyms, and Abbreviations 435
  • Name Index 449
  • Subject Index 455
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