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MOX facility's safety assured

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The U.S. Department of Energy has prepared adequate safety programs for its $4.86 billion plant designed to convert plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs into commercial reactor fuel, according to a final Safety Evaluation Report issued Monday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The 578-page report follows a draft issued last August and covers, among other things, the mixed oxide fuel facility's ability to protect nuclear materials from theft; the adequacy of environmental studies; and safety features to prevent any criticality within the plant's many processes.

Dozens of accident scenarios were evaluated, according to the report, from which portions were edited for security or proprietary technology reasons.

Those analyses included fires, leaks, explosions, acid spills, tornadoes and earthquakes. Radiation hazards from explosions were calculated out more than six miles to the Savannah River Site boundaries.

"The NRC staff concludes that the applicant's descriptions, specifications, commitments, and analyses provide an adequate basis for safety and safeguards of facility operations and that operation of the facility does not pose an undue risk to worker and public health and safety," the inspectors wrote.

Although defense facilities are often exempt from NRC oversight, the MOX project requires licensing because of its mission, which is to manufacture fuel to be used in commercial nuclear power reactors.

By using surplus plutonium to make that fuel, the weapons-grade material is permanently disposed of in a manner in which it cannot be exploited by terrorists.

NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said that the issuance of the MOX project's Safety Evaluation Report is a major step in the process but that final licensing decisions are still several years away.

In the meantime, he added, the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board will continue its evaluation of the project's application and on-site construction inspection programs will remain in place.

"A license will be issued only if the commission verifies the applicant has properly constructed principal structures, systems and components," Ledford said.

The MOX program is part of an agreement between the U.S. and the Russian Federation to dismantle thousands of Cold War-era nuclear weapons by using the plutonium from warheads to manufacture fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

The facility would -- over time -- combine 34 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium with larger volumes of uranium oxides to make the mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel.

Scheduled to open in late 2016, it is the only MOX fuel fabrication facility being built in the U.S.

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SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 12/27/10 - 04:03 pm
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Trouble ahead for the MOX

Trouble ahead for the MOX program - no reactors designated to use MOX and testing and licensing for general use will take 5+ years. The MOX plant well could site unused for a long period of time or never be used if no reactors are licensed. DOE needs to fully explain how the obstacles will be overcome. But the NRC is an independent agency so many of the problems are beyond DOE's control.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/28/10 - 09:15 am
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The government can force

The government can force power companies to use MOX fuel. The problems the French ran into with MOX fuel can be overcome with new designs. We are going to have nuclear material at SRS forever, we may as well find some work to do.

NewHere
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NewHere 12/28/10 - 12:25 pm
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The goverment can not force

The goverment can not force anybody to use MOX fuel. The problem with this great project is that they really don't know when is going to be completed or when fuel is going to be available for delivery. The power stations need to know with 100% certainty that the fuel is going to be delivered on time. That facility will probably take until 2020 to complete and fuel will probably not be produced until 2022.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/28/10 - 05:34 pm
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NewHere, they say it will

NewHere, they say it will open in 2016. What makes you think it will be four years later?

NewHere
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NewHere 12/28/10 - 09:41 pm
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Riverman I have been on that

Riverman I have been on that site ther is no way that that facility will be finish in 2016.

exmox
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exmox 03/04/11 - 06:52 am
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Between not having competant

Between not having competant managers, inexperienced workers and suppliers that are milking the taxpayer for all they can get, this place will be here a long time. But produce nothing. And in about 25 years, they will dynamite it like the cooling tower they never used. We have equipment suppliers that have no clue what they are supposed to be supplying. They can't meet the specs. The cost overruns are gonna keep increasing. We have thousands of change notices. This place will produce nothing, ever.

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