GE Hitachi proposes small modular nuclear fast reactor as solution to legacy plutonium stockpile in the UK

By Dorothy Davis 

Rendering of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Module) protoype reactor GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has submitted a proposal to utilize the UK's legacy plutonium stockpile for a new PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Module) nuclear power station in West Cumbria.

In February the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched a public consultation to develop ways to deal with the nation’s 87 metric tons of legacy plutonium. The British government currently stores the stockpile at the Sellafield site in northwest England, which was once home to an operating mixed oxide nuclear fuel (MOX) manufacturing plant. In August the Sellafield MOX fuel plant was forced to shut down after losing orders from several Japanese utilities in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident.

In its statement on nuclear energy matters the DECC presented a preliminary policy view to pursue reuse of plutonium as MOX fuel for use in civil nuclear reactors; however, the DECC also outlined that the UK government remained open to alternative proposals for plutonium management that offered a “better value to the taxpayer.”

Last week GEH officially proposed its PRISM reactor as a solution to managing the UK’s plutonium stockpile. In presenting the features and benefits of the prototype reactor GEH highlighted the PRISM's simplified, modular design provides improved safety, reduced costs, factory construction, a broad seismic isolation design envelope, and operational flexibility that increases plant availability. The plant would take approximately five years to build and have a 60 year operational life. 

GEH wants to build a full scale (622 MW) version of its PRISM reactor at the Sellafield site, which would eliminate costs associated with transporting the existing plutonium. GEH representative Danny Roderick told Reuters the proposed plant would also be able to recycle the UK’s existing stockpile in about 5 years and at a cheaper cost than building new MOX plants. 

Roderick offered, “Our proposal combines permanent waste disposal with the ability to generate a huge amount of low carbon electricity at lower cost than alternatives.

“If implemented it could signal a huge step towards a safe, sustainable new generation of nuclear power. The UK has a chance to lead the world by developing this technology at Sellafield.”

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