SIZEWELL A: Resumption after Olympics has not yet started

A RESUMPTION of the transport of Sizewell A power station's radioactive spent fuel rods is being delayed because of problems at the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

Transport of the fuel rods – via Stratford, east London – was suspended during the Olympic Games and was due to re-start on Monday.

But a backlog of work at the Sellafield plant, which was closed down for maintenance during the summer, means that the re-start will be delayed.

Magnox, the company which operates Sizewell A, believes it will still be able to meet the autumn 2014 target for transporting all of the power station's spent fuel rods. The suspension of the transport during the Olympics was put down to the need to help reduce rail traffic in the Stratford area rather than, as claimed by anti-nuclear campaigners, an increased terrorist threat.

It allowed engineers to carry out a full structural survey on the 50-tonne crane used to lift the spent fuel containers. No defects were found and only superficial paint repairs were required.

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Sizewell A ceased generating electricity in December 2006 at the end of a 40-year operating lifetime.

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

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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 before the journey north to Cumbria.

Shipments to date comprise about 44pc 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 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.

A Magnox spokesman said Sellafield's reprocessing plant had been late in returning to service from a summer shutdown, leaving a build-up of work.

'Spent fuel shipments from Sizewell A, which were suspended to maximise passenger capacities on the London rail network during the Olympics, have not resumed as expected,' he said.

'The summer break gave Magnox enough time to carry out extensive maintenance work, so we have confidence in the reliability of Sizewell's plant to deliver the end of de-fuelling in line with plans, by the autumn of 2014.'

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