Adam Vaughan’s excellent assessment of the long-term, expensive failure of the reprocessing ‘atomic adventure’ at Sellafield suggests that the plutonium extracted by using the recently closed Thermal Oxide (Thorp) reprocessing plant was extracted “for bombs.” (“Sellafield, once star of a ‘new atomic age,’ scrubs up for a different future,” 16 December; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/15/sellafield-thorp-reprocessing-uranium-hazard-cleanup ).
I have no doubt Sellafield’s owners, the state-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), would deny this. However the truth is complex, but very important, and has significant Brexit fallout complications.
Under a new so-called “voluntary safeguards agreement (VOA) signed on 7 June this year between the UK and the UN international watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to replace the existing trilateral agreements between UK-IAEA and the EU nuclear watchdog body, Euratom, under Brexit arrangements, it includes in its very first article, the following exclusion:
“The United Kingdom shall accept the application of safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in facilities or parts thereof within the United Kingdom, subject to exclusions for national security reasons only, with a view to enabling the Agency to verify that such material is not, except as provided for in this Agreement, withdrawn from civil activities.” (emphasis added)(https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ms-no132018-ukiaea-agreement-for-application-of-safeguards-in-connection-with-treaty-on-the-non-proliferation-of-nuclear-weapons)
Lest anyone thinks this is simply an enabling option, very unlikely to be implemented, we know from Parliamentary answers and annual publications by the UK nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, under the predecessor trilateral agreement ( in force from September 1978), which this new treaty replaces, there have been several hundred occasions when nuclear materials, including plutonium, has been withdrawn from safeguards cover.
A written answer to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas on 17 December (200104) by foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan, withdrawals year by year since 1999 were as follows: in 2000 there were 6; in 2001, 18; in 2002, 11; in 2003, 20; in 2004 19; in 2005, 17; in 2006, 16; in 2007, 31; in 2008, 19; in 2009, 15; in 2010, 14; in 2011, 17; in 2012, 19; in 2013, 34; in 2014, 18, in 2015, 29; in 2016, 44 and in 2017 35 withdrawals.
The international treaty that put this agreement into law was passed unopposed by MPs on Monday this week, de facto legitimising large scale plutonium proliferation with impunity by the UK Government.