Sellafield ‘missing’ 30kg of plutonium

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd has reported 30kg of plutonium as 'unaccounted for' during the last financial year in its annual audit of nuclear materials.

However, BNFL say this is nothing to worry about and merely an accounting error. In a statement the company said that MUF (Materials Unaccounted For) figures had been produced since 1977 and are the result of measurement uncertainties. Some years show gains and some show losses.

“These uncertainties exist in all industrial processes, for example the gold industry experiences the same thing when extracting gold from ores – the amount recovered never precisely matches the amount estimated in the ore,” the statement said. “No nuclear material has been stolen. Figures change from year to year. Negative numbers do not mean material has disappeared; positive numbers don’t mean material has been created.”

The ‘missing’ figure also falls within the internationally accepted standards set by the International Atomic Energy Authority. This says that uncertainties can be up to 1% of the total throughput while the latest Sellafield figures represent only around 0.5% of the throughput.

The news has caused concern and comes at the same time as claims that radioactive particles have leaked from the Dounreay reactor in Scotland into the Pentland Firth. A report by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is being studied by the procurator fiscal as to whether the operators of the plant should be prosecuted.

Despite the explanation given by BNFL, Norman Baker MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary said: “If this plutonium really has gone missing this is a very serious issue. Those who argue for a new generation of nuclear power stations ought to reflect on the inability of the industry to ensure the security of the power stations it has already got.”

By David Hopkins

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