Frequently Asked
UK PRISM Questions

Why is GE Hitachi (GEH) focusing on the UK?

The government of the United Kingdom, through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), is considering reusing its stockpile of plutonium (87 tons). We believe PRISM provides the best solution to this objective.

Furthermore, there is a guaranteed market for PRISM’s low-carbon by-product – electricity – which eliminates the need to sell a fuel product and turns the UK’s stores of plutonium into an economic asset.

How much will PRISM cost in the UK?

PRISM can deliver superior value for taxpayers’ money and in a highly competitive timeframe. Without sharing capital and operating costs (which are commercially sensitive), a PRISM plant would likely cost significantly less than alternative plutonium reuse options.

PRISM has a number of benefits for managing plutonium – including reduced time to disposition the UK stockpile due to greater incorporation of plutonium in the fuel, and a simplified fuel manufacturing and reactor construction process – all of which reduce the costs of implementation.

PRISM’s design was optimized to use plutonium fuel and uses a special fuel design that minimizes fuel fabrication costs. Therefore, it will cost less to manufacture PRISM metallic fuel and the design requires a relatively small plant size to disposition the plutonium. An additional benefit is that PRISM’s solution turns plutonium into low carbon electricity, eliminating the commercial risks of finding willing buyers of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel on the commercial market.

What does GE Hitachi mean when it says PRISM is a proven technology?

PRISM is based on the very successful EBR II reactor that began operating in 1964, as well as on the Advanced Liquid Metal Program, which lasted for 10 years. PRISM reactor components and fuel fabrication techniques are based on decades of testing and analysis. Only well-established technologies are used in the PRISM design.

Where else is PRISM operational on a commercial basis?

After 30 years of development, the technology utilized by PRISM is ready to be commercialized, and can be made operational within the same timeframe as other potential plutonium reuse options.

The PRISM evolution of EBR II would be a world-first for the UK, building on West Cumbria’s status as a center of global excellence for nuclear technology. Supply chain interest in PRISM has been significant, ranging from engineering, to fabrication, to labor and operational organizations, who perceive both the technological and the commercial development benefits.

The U.S. Government has approved the export of PRISM-related technology and agreed to provide formal Advocacy for the project. The Export Import Bank of the U.S. is also interested in participating in the financing of PRISM.

What advantages does the PRISM have compared to other UK plutonium reuse options?

We believe PRISM is the most efficient, clean, cost-effective way to rapidly manage the UK’s plutonium stockpile, while also generating low-carbon electricity, using proven technology.

PRISM can deliver the Government and the NDA’s policy objectives at the best value for taxpayers’ money through a flexible commercial model and in a highly competitive timeframe. Because PRISM isn’t just dispositioning plutonium but generating low carbon electricity, it has a guaranteed market for its product and an ability to view the UK’s stores of plutonium as a value-added asset, rather than a costly liability. It could also be turned into a comprehensive used fuel solution at a later date if the UK chose this option. PRISM is a single technology that can address plutonium reuse, provide 611 MW of carbon-free electricity, and provide a comprehensive used fuel solution.

How would PRISM help with UK proliferation risk?

First, the plutonium, currently sitting in a powder form in sealed cans at Sellafield, would be downblended with uranium powder, then turned into a binary metal alloy, which would provide an initial level of proliferation resistance. After that, the fuel would be fabricated into robust fuel bundles that weigh about 1/2 ton, are easy to count, and very difficult to “carry” off. The fuel bundles are used in the PRISM reactor to produce power, after which they become virtually unusable for proliferation purposes. Unlike alternatives, PRISM fuel could either be recycled to completely consume and eliminate the plutonium or disposed in a proliferation resistant manner.

Is PRISM cheaper or more expensive than other alternatives for UK plutonium?

We believe PRISM provides the best value for UK taxpayers. PRISM potentially represents a profit in the tens of billions of pounds for UK taxpayers, which can be used to recover past costs of plutonium storage or to accelerate other nuclear remediation efforts.

PRISM’s unique suitability for plutonium reuse means its design can be smaller and simpler, with fewer components than alternative technologies. As a result, it has a comparably low cost of capital compared to other plutonium reuse options, which need to be larger to achieve the same rate of plutonium dispositioning.

What’s the U.S. position on using PRISM in UK?

U.S. law authorized the building of PRISM in the 1992 Energy Policy Act. The technology on which PRISM relies has been under development for more than 30 years and GEH is ready to commercialize PRISM. The U.S. Government has approved the export of PRISM-related technology to the UK for plutonium disposition and agreed to provide formal Advocacy for the project. The Export Import Bank of the U.S. is also interested in participating in the financing of PRISM. The timing is perfect for a nation concerned about plutonium stockpiles to take a leading global role in plutonium disposition.

How has GEH’s collaboration developed with the UK over the reactor technology?

GEH has worked closely with the U.S. Government, U.S. Embassy in London, the NDA and Dept. of Energy and Climate Change to ensure we communicate the benefits of PRISM technology to key stakeholders. We have also met and received endorsements from a range of environmentalists, scientists, unions, think tanks, journalists, bloggers and Parliamentarians who all see the potential benefits of PRISM for the UK.

Who else is GE Hitachi partnering with?

As part of our commitment to the UK, GEH signed partnerships with the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and The University of Manchester. In March 2012 GEH signed a memorandum of understanding with NNL to study the potential UK deployment of PRISM. In May 2012 GEH announced a memorandum of understanding with The University of Manchester, a world leading research institution on nuclear energy, which will provide GEH with expert technical knowledge and input to the potential deployment of PRISM in the UK.

Our parent company, General Electric, has a large presence in the UK, dating back decades. We plan to grow this presence and our partnerships with the government, stakeholder organizations, and business partners in the UK.

What is GEH’s relationship with the Hitachi-owned Horizon?

Horizon is now 100 percent owned by Hitachi. Horizon will be the site licensee and operator of the ABWR technology which will be licensed (GDA) and supplied by our partner HGNE with support from GE Hitachi.

Four ABWRs have already been built in Japan on time and on budget. Another two ABWRs are currently under construction in Japan today and two are being completed in Taiwan.

Hitachi and GE have worked together on nuclear projects for over 50 years and put in place formal alliance arrangements in 2007. GEH works very closely with Hitachi and will do so in the UK as we do around the world. Hitachi’s efforts with Horizon and our work with the NDA on PRISM are good indicators of our shared interest in supporting the people of the UK to meet their clean energy and plutonium management goals.

What are the likely next steps for GEH with regards to the NDA?

In February 2012, the NDA announced they were seeking information on alternatives for managing the UK’s plutonium stock, including PRISM. In March 2012, the NDA decided that there was merit in investigating the credibility of two alternative proposals (one of which was PRISM) alongside the development of the MOX proposal. GEH submitted a feasibility study to the NDA for their consideration in July 2012.

In the coming months, we plan to work with NDA to provide additional details covering the technical and commercials aspects, as well as delivering licensing and justification support for PRISM as the preferred approach in the UK.

Isn’t the UK Government’s preferred option MOX?

The UK Government’s credible options consultation made it clear they are looking at all reuse options. We believe the UK Government has made significant progress in recent years focusing plutonium disposition on reuse of the plutonium in reactors. We believe the UK Government’s ultimate preference will be the most effective solution for maximum UK taxpayer value.

In May 2013 the UK Government, in its response to the plutonium reuse consultation, concluded that “Final reactor choices have yet to be made and alternative technologies remain under consideration. Therefore it is considered that generic guidance offers the most flexible and proportionate approach to justification.” Baroness Verma, the DECC Minister responsible for plutonium reuse, said such a decision was “prudent.”

How long and how complicated will it be to get regulatory approval in UK?

Whatever solution the UK chooses for plutonium disposition; it will require licensing of the facility or facilities to complete the solution.

PRISM has successfully been through detailed regulatory review in the U.S. In its Report, “Pre-application Safety Evaluation: Report for the Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) Liquid Metal Reactor,” the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) stated: “On the basis of the review performed, the staff, with the ACRS in agreement, concludes that no obvious impediments to licensing the PRISM design have been identified.”

In the UK, an independent review commissioned by the NDA and verified by a third-party in 2012 assessed the abilities of a proposed plant using PRISM technology in the areas of fuel fabrication, reactor operation, and fuel storage, and concluded that PRISM presents “no fundamental impediment(s)” to licensing.

What is the potential implementation timetable?

The schedule estimated by GEH to the first irradiation of plutonium in a PRISM reactor is comparable to other options. Licensing is always significant for new nuclear plants because safety is of the utmost importance, but review after review have concluded there are no fundamental impediments to PRISM licensing. The technology is proven, PRISM’s simplified reactor design will speed construction, and GEH’s technical and operational expertise has proven our ability to consistently deliver on time and on budget nuclear power projects anywhere in the world.

Looking For More Information About PRISM?

This site is focused on PRISM's potential application in the UK. To learn more about PRISM’s capabilities and its selection for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor project please click here.