Thorp nuclear reprocessing comes to an end

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s controversial Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) plant – one of only two commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in the world – has completed its 24-year mission to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from around the world, says operator Sellafield Ltd.

Opened in 1994, it has reprocessed more than 9,000 tonnes of fuel from 30 customers in nine countries, generating an estimated £9bn in revenue, says Sellafield. The last batch of fuel to be reprocessed began its journey through the plant on Friday 9 November. 

The plant is a third of a mile long and dominates a huge central strip of the Sellafield site. Costing £1.8bn to build, it was paid for by its future customers, says Sellafield. The decision to cease reprocessing was taken in 2012 in response to a significant downturn in demand – the international market for reprocessing has shifted significantly since Thorp’s construction, with the majority of customers now opting to store rather than reprocess their fuel.

Paul Foster, Sellafield Ltd’s Chief Executive Officer, said: ‘Thorp has been a West Cumbrian success story. It has delivered jobs, skills, pride, and prestige. Our community came together in the fight to get it built, through the “Trust Us” campaign. Together we completed one of the largest and most complex construction projects ever undertaken in Europe.’

But Thorp was always controversial, with critics saying that the rationale for building the plant had disappeared before it even opened, and that, once built, it had a very chequered performance. Originally expected to reprocess 7,000 tonnes of spent fuel in its first ten years, it only managed 9,000 in 24 years.

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