In order to make the UK energy self-sufficient and achieve its climate ambitions, the UK has invested heavily in nuclear energywith the aim of generating at least a quarter of the country’s supply from nuclear power by 2050. However, a nuclear build-up poses another problem, as critics point out that the UK has already produced 5.1 million tonnes of radioactive waste, according to 2020 figures.
Waste from one nuclear power station is another’s treasure, as a new start-up seeks to generate clean energy from 140 tonnes of plutonium waste currently stored in Cumbria.
UK-based Newcleo will use spent, unprocessed nuclear fuel that sits at Sellafield, which is considered Britain’s most dangerous nuclear site.
It was at this site in Cumbria that the UK produced plutonium-239, which was used to create the country’s first nuclear bomb.
The site is also close to Calder Hall, where the UK built the world’s first commercial nuclear power station.
The site currently processes around 80% of the radioactive waste generated by UK nuclear reactors and also reprocesses spent nuclear fuel shipped from European and Japanese nuclear power stations.
Newcleo is currently looking to design and build the lead-cooled fast reactors (LFR), which are fueled by mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, with a design that should rival the small nuclear reactors currently being developed by Rolls Royce.
MOX, which is made from plutonium recovered from spent reactor fuel, mixed with depleted uranium, is widely used in France, which is home to Europe’s only commercial plant producing this fuel.
According to chief executive Stefano Buono, Newcleo is likely to install its first reactor on UK soil because of a precedent for private operators of nuclear power plants in the UK, Telegraph reports.
He also noted that Newcleo planned to build its 200MW reactors at less than €1bn (£858m) each.
That’s significantly cheaper than the £26billion it took to build EDF’s Hinkley Point C reactor, after the plant’s completion was delayed due to Covid-19.
Mr Buono added that existing nuclear power plants “create a lot of plutonium and other heavy elements and these are the elements that normally have to be buried in a geological repository.
“So essentially we can use these things – they become our fuel.”
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