Sizewell: Highly-radioactive fuel rods will not be transported during Olympics

TRANSPORT of Sizewell A power station’s most dangerous nuclear legacy – its highly radioactive spent fuel rods – is being suspended for the duration of the Olympic Games but the entire operation could still be completed by September 2014, officials believe.

Removal of the fuel rods from the two gas-cooled reactors to the nuclear reprocessing works at Sellafield in Cumbria has been progressing well and more than 130 consignments have so far been despatched.

The rods are transported in thick steel containers – known as flasks – along the East Suffolk rail line to Ipswich and then to marshalling yards at Stratford prior to the journey north to Cumbria.

Anti-nuclear campaigners claim the suspension of transports is to reduce the risk of a terrorist incident as the route passes close to the Olympic Village at Stratford.

However, this is refuted by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which was set up by the Government to oversee the decommissioning of the UK’s first generation nuclear plants. A spokesman said yesterday: “We have merely acceded to a request from Network Rail to suspend the transports to help avoid congestion in the Stratford area during the Olympic Games.”

But Pete Wilkinson, a Suffolk-based environment consultant and former UK director of Greenpeace, said he believed there was undoubtedly a security element in the decision.

“Spent fuel shipments were found on the IRA hit list a long time ago and there’s no doubt they are vulnerable to armoured attack. These are highly dangerous cargoes running through urban conurbations and there must be a terrorist threat,” he said.

Most Read

A Sizewell A spokesman said 138 spent fuel flasks had so far been transported to Sellafield and a further 179 consignments would complete the de-fuelling operation, hopefully by September 2014.

Shipments to date comprise about 44% of the nuclear fuel – weighing 278 tonnes and numbering more than 20,000 individual fuel elements.

Spent fuel elements from Sizewell B are being stored on site but the existing building is expected to be full to capacity by 2015 and permission has been granted for the construction of a new store.

This will be big enough to accommodate all the power station’s spent fuel rods – even taking into account a planned 20-year extension of its operating lifetime. Any lifetime extension will be dependent on safety clearance as well as economic viability.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter