Plan agreed with stakeholders to manage the ‘Exotic’ HEU fuel at Sellafield ditched without consultation in covert deal rushed through with Government to meet Washington Summit timetable.
The deal announced by Government in a press release of 31st March will see some 700kg of unirradiated Highly Enriched Uranium, categorised by the NDA as Exotic fuels and currently stored safely at Dounreay, transported to the US in exchange for US material being sent to Europe for conversion to medical isotopes.
Options for the management of Dounreay’s Exotic HEU had previously been assessed under Public Consultation processes in 2012 and 2013, with NDA announcing in 2013 its preferred option as transferring the material to Sellafield for long-term management. Since then no option updates have been published by the NDA
Core’s campaign co-ordinator Martin Forwood said to day:
“Never mind the ‘win-win’ deal for the UK and US described by Government, this is no more than a ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ agreement hatched by two Governments who clearly have little regard for the security of nuclear weapons-usable materials. How can the threat of nuclear terrorism possibly be curbed – an action demanded by the Washington Summit – when UK and US leaders, with the connivance of the NDA, are prepared to deliberately expose this weapons –useable HEU to the obvious and very real dangers of trans-Atlantic shipment and terrorist threat”.
The NDA-owned unirradiated HEU at Dounreay, amounting to around 1000kg, is comprised of oxide powders and pellets and some uranium metal and alloys which have varying levels of weapons-enrichment ‘that present operational and disposability difficulties’. Transfer of the material to Sellafield over a 6-year period commencing around 2014/15 was to have been by rail or sea, and sea trials relating specifically to the transport of HEU to Sellafield were undertaken by the NDA-owned ship Oceanic Pintail at the port of Scrabster in Caithness in October 2014.
The paper trail leading to the NDA’s sudden abandonment of its preferred option to transfer the HEU from Dounreay to Sellafield – an option to hold good from 2013 to early 2016 – reveals the haste in which the Washington Summit deal was cobbled together. For it was only in its 5th January 2016 Strategy consultation document that the NDA first hints that some Dounreay HEU could be ‘transferred to a third party’ for conversion into medical isotopes – with no further detail provided for consultees and no suggestion of any US involvement. With the consultation ending on 15th February 2016, the NDA’s Strategy document (with no further update on Dounreay’s HEU) was published on 1st April 2016 – the day after the Government’s announcement of the UK/US deal.
Martin Forwood added:
“This toxic and prime terrorist material should be kept in the UK and we oppose any plan to ship it to the US. We condemn without reservation not only the sickening way in which the deal has been sold by Government as a cancer fighting initiative, but also the NDA’s covert U-turn – breath-taking in its deception – and its trashing of the obligatory transparency of a deal that has been struck without public consultation and taken the world and his dog by surprise”.
The prospect of Dounreay’s HEU being shipped to a US private sector facility at Erwin in Tennessee has been met with fury by US NGO’s. Tom Clements, Director of Savannah River Site Watch has strongly argued that managing the materials is the sole responsibility of the UK, that the deal amounts to nothing more than waste dumping on the US, and that in non-proliferations terms the HEU should be left in the UK.
Confirming that of the 1000kg of HEU held at Dounreay, 700kg was destined for the US and the remainder (~300kg) bound for long-term storage at Sellafield, an NDA spokesman admitted that he was ‘hard pushed’ to provide an answer as to why the US deal had not been put out to public consultation. Further detail on implementing the deal was likely to be put in the public domain in the coming months.