THE flow of highly radioactive spent fuel rods from the redundant Sizewell A nuclear power station to the Sellafield reprocessing works in Cumbria has slowed to a trickle as the Suffolk plant has slipped down the priority list.

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However, officials are hopeful that regular transports will resume at the end of March and that the target date for total de-fuelling – the autumn of 2014 – will still be met.

Sizewell A ceased electricity generation at the end of 2006 after a 40-year operational lifetime and is being decommissioned, a process which will continue for decades.

Thousands of fuel rods from the twin gas-cooled reactors are gradually being taken by rail to Sellafield for reprocessing via the East Suffolk line and Stratford on the outskirts of London.

Regular transports were taking place up until the start of the Olympic Games when the journeys were suspended - because of the need to reduce rail congestion in the Stratford area, not because of any terrorist threat, officials maintained.

A resumption was delayed because of problems at Sellafield, now largely resolved.

But few transports have since taken place and the Sizewell Stakeholder Group (SSG) was recently told that a resumption of the regular journeys is now on hold.

Clive Pullen, Sizewell A plant manager, said priority was now being given to the de-fuelling in Scotland of the Chapelcross power station, originally built to provide weapons-grade plutonium for the Ministry of Defence as well as to pump electricity into the national grid.

“De-fuelling has not been going as well as we would wish. We’ve got a small allowance at the moment but we’ve been assured that Sizewell A will be the next priority,” Mr Pullen said.

It would take another 177 rail transports to complete the de-fuelling, he added.

Marianne Fellowes, SSG chair, said the lack of transports was proving a frustration for Sizewell A staff geared up for the de-fuelling process.

The SSG – as well as the management at Sizewell A - would be pressing for an early re-start date, she said.

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