Plutonium 'missing' at Sellafield

February 17th, 2005  

Topic: Plutonium 'missing' at Sellafield


Source: BBC News

Plutonium 'missing' at Sellafield

Enough plutonium to make seven nuclear bombs is unaccounted for in the records of Sellafield power station, British Nuclear Group is expected to announce.

The Times claims an annual audit due to be published later will show that 30kg of plutonium is classified as "material unaccounted for" during 2004.

A BBC correspondent expected British Nuclear Fuels to admit a "paper loss".

And the Department of Trade and Industry said the audit "does not represent any material going missing".

The discrepancy, which compares with a 19kg discrepancy at the plant in 2003, is expected to embarrass the British Nuclear Group, which manages the facility.

In a statement, the DTI said: "This is an accounting process.

"It's not unusual for the accounting process to indicate material unaccounted for.

"Again, it's not an indication of any missing material."

Plutonium is a man-made radioactive metal that can be used as a nuclear fuel and a nuclear weapon.

Sellafield processes thousands of tons of nuclear material every year.

British Nuclear Fuels, the parent company of BNG, is yet to comment on the situation but are expected to do so on Thursday.

'Dramatic development'

BBC Science Correspondent Sue Nelson said the company is expected to play down any fears by saying that any unaccounted materials will be "within the standards of allowed measurement inaccuracies".

They are expected to play down fears by saying it is a "paper loss", rather than a physical one, she said.

Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear weapons specialist, told the Times: "There will always be some material unaccounted for but this is a dramatic development.

"This is a major reason for not reprocessing spent nuclear fuel because you can't tell what the material unaccounted for is."