The Tennessee Valley Authority remains willing to explore using MOX fuel in its commercial power reactors, but a final decision will depend on economics, safety issues and the ability to obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing.
“Mixed oxide could supply low-cost fuel for about two decades if fully implemented,” the utility said this week in a fact sheet that coincides with the government’s release Friday of a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for its MOX program.
The fuel, to be made at a $4.86 billion plant under construction at Savannah River Site, involves blending surplus plutonium from dismantled warheads with uranium to create fuel rods suitable for use in commercial power reactors.
According to the draft impact statement, the TVA might use MOX fuel in as many as five reactors at its Sequoyah and Brown’s Ferry nuclear plants but does not yet have a “preferred alternative” on how to proceed.
“If TVA moves forward with the MOX program, TVA could start using a small number of mixed-oxide fuel assemblies … in TVA reactors in the 2018 timeframe at the earliest,” the utility said. Refuelings would gradually increase the percentage of MOX fuel to 40 percent.
The MOX program, administered by the National Nuclear Security Administration, is part of an effort to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium – enough for about 17,000 nuclear bombs – by rendering it permanently inaccessible for use in weapons.
The program has drawn criticism from congressional budget writers over rising costs and the potential for elevated operating expenses.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability has also objected to the program, saying it has not met adequate testing standards.
“Use of MOX fuel poses a safety hazard during reactor operation, and as the fuel is hotter it is harder to manage after removal from the reactor,” said Tom Clements, the group’s nonproliferation policy director.
Public meetings have been scheduled around the country to discuss the draft statement, including a session Sept. 4 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the North Augusta Municipal Center.