Hansard (Proceedings of the Parliament), 18 January 1999, p. 365

Written Answers

Nuclear Fuel

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what arrangements are being made to return to Japan nuclear materials recovered from reprocessing Japanese spent nuclear fuel at BNFL's Sellafield plant. [66647]

Mr. Battle: The Government have been consulting the Government of Japan for some time about arrangements for returning the nuclear materials, including plutonium. recovered from reprocessing Japanese spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield, This is in keeping with the terms of the letters exchanged between the two Governments in 1978 in support of reprocessing contracts between Japanese utilities and BNFL and the policy of successive Governments.

The Government of Japan's preferred means of using the recovered plutonium is for it to be converted into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel for use in Japanese nuclear power stations. The MOX fuel, including material produced by BNFL's counterpart COGEMA in France. will be returned by sea and carried by UK- flagged transport ships belonging to Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd. (PNTL), a subsidiary of BNFL.

The purpose of the consultations between the UK and Japan has been co ensure that appropriate measures are put in place for the physical protection of the material in line with internationally agreed commitments and recommendations on physical protection and reflecting the concern of ail parties to prevent the proliferation of sensitive nuclear materials. This includes compliance with the recommendation of the International Atomic Energy Agency that NIOX fuel, like all other Category I nuclear material. should tie accompanied during transport by an armed security escort.

All plutonium recovered from Japanese spent fuel reprocessed in Europe originates from uranium which was enriched in the U.S. Because of this, it falls within I-IS rules of origin under Which the US retains certain rights and responsibili tics over its retransfer. This means that plans for the transport of MOX fuel from Europe to Japan by sea must comply with specific US requirements concerning safety and physical protection. These are set our in the 1988 US-Japan agreement on nuclear co-operation and include the requirement either that the transport ship should be accompanied by an armed escort or that alternative security measures acceptable to the US should be in place.

The security arrangements currently under discussion with Japan and the I-IS would involved 2 PNTL transport ships travelling together for mutual protection. Each would carry armaments, for defensive use only, under the control of specially trained officers of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Constabulary, These security provisions arc solely for protecting the ships, their crew and their cargo in the extremely unlikely eventuality of an armed assault by terrorists.


John Battle is the Energy Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry.


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