Strategy options for the UK’s separated plutonium

21 September 2007

This report outlines the health, environmental and security risks associated with the plutonium stockpile and how they might be managed. We stress the urgent need for the Government to develop and implement a strategy for the management of separated plutonium as an integral part of its energy and radioactive waste polices. Failure to do so could result in significant avoidable costs and security risks.

We suggest actions that the Government should undertake now to reduce the risks and to prepare for the future. We also assess specific future options depending on whether a new generation of nuclear power stations is constructed in the UK in the near future. The status quo of continuing to stockpile a very dangerous material is not an acceptable long-term option.

A cap should be placed on further separated plutonium production in the UK once existing legally binding contracts have been fulfilled. We welcome the Government's intention, as stated in the 2007 nuclear power consultation document that spent fuel from any new nuclear power stations that might be built in the UK will not be reprocessed.

We published a report in 1998 on the Management of separated plutonium which advocated a comprehensive review by independent experts of the management options for this plutonium in view of the radiotoxic risk it represented and its potential for direct use in illicit weapons. The report recommended that the Government urgently review the options for stabilising and reducing the stockpile, and ultimately disposing of it. Unfortunately there has been no such review.