MOX facility at SRS gets powdered plutonium feedstock

The first 442 kilograms of plutonium oxide made from nuclear warheads have been accepted for future use the government’s mixed oxide fuel facility at Savannah River Site.

The announcement Friday by the National Nuclear Security Ad­ministration said the powdered plu­tonium was processed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and passed a “rigorous certification process” before its acceptance by Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the contractor that will build and operate the $4.8 billion plant in South Carolina.

The MOX nonproliferation program is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium by blending it with uranium to make nuclear fuel suitable for use in commercial power reactors.

The government’s original plan included building a “pit disassembly” plant near the MOX compound. Officials later opted to use several existing facilities to process the plutonium into oxide form.

In addition to the Los Alamos lab, Savannah River Site’s H Canyon chemical separations area was also assigned to produce plutonium oxide through a three-year mission announced in October 2011 that helped save about 90 jobs.

H Canyon is expected to provide up to 3.7 metric tons of feedstock, much of which will come from nonpit plutonium already in storage at the site.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions began the repackaging and dissolution of nonpit plutonium this month, the nuclear security group said in its announcement.

The nuclear security administration, which manages the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority in its quest to find clients willing to use the fuel.

The MOX fuel plant is scheduled to open in 2016, with production of commercial fuel starting by 2018.

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