MOX fuel suitable for U.S. power reactors, NRC told

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 2:55 PM
Last updated 5:01 PM
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An independent study of irradiated MOX fuel samples confirms the material will work properly in commercial power reactors, according to a report given to federal regulators Wednesday.

“All the results were consistent with safe and acceptable performance,” said Kevin McCoy, an advisory engineer with AREVA – a component of the consortium building the government’s $4.8 billion Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility, or “MOX Plant,” at Savannah River Site.

During a briefing before U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff, company officials shared results of independent tests conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory on French-made MOX fuel samples that were tested in Duke’s Catawba 1 reactor for two 18-month cycles from June 2005 to May 2008.

Unlike traditional nuclear fuels, MOX is manufactured by blending small amounts of plutonium with uranium, rendering the plutonium permanently unavailable for use in weapons. The MOX project in South Carolina is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of pure plutonium – mostly from dismantled warheads.

The MOX fuel pellets irradiated at Catawba 1 were examined and tested in many different ways, with extensive documentation of each step in the process.

“All of these examinations, as Oak Ridge will happily attest, were detailed and thorough,” McCoy told regulators, during a meeting at the NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters, made accessible to The Augusta Chronicle via telephone monitor.

MOX fuel containing reactor-grade, rather than weapons-grade plutonium, has been used successfully in Europe, where about 5,900 assemblies have been irradiated in 39 reactors, he said.

Even when subtle differences between the two variations of MOX fuel are considered, all the data supports predictions that weapons-grade MOX will perform adequately under U.S. irradiation conditions, he said.

Critics of the MOX project are awaiting more details of the Oak Ridge study.

“We still have seen no data whatsoever, so the question is when the full details of that report will be public,” said Tom Clements, the nonproliferation policy director for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

The Duke tests, he said, were halted after just two fuel cycles, while some reactors are designed to use fuel through three complete cycles. “So they are at risk, if they base all their documentation on that one test, of only being able to license the stuff for shorter, or fewer, cycles,” Clements said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and is in charge of the MOX project, has acknowledged challenges finding clients willing to use the fuel assemblies.

Tennessee Valley Authority and a small utility in Richland, Wash., are evaluating the idea, but no formal user agreements have been completed.

The MOX fuel plant at Savannah River Site, in its sixth year of construction, employs about 2,200 workers and is 60 percent complete. It is scheduled to open in 2016, with production of commercial fuel commencing by 2018.

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omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 03/01/12 - 04:22 am
1
0
Yep folks, we're spending

Yep folks, we're spending billions right here in our back yard, to make a product that as of right now, has no buyer. Did the French back out? Am I remembering that correctly? Well, shoot.. Maybe we can use it to line Fred Russell's pockets, seeing as how neither him, nor that stuff is going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

wildman
1039
Points
wildman 03/01/12 - 04:58 am
1
0
MOX is a huge money pit. A

MOX is a huge money pit. A lot of money for nothing.

SCEagle Eye
895
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/01/12 - 09:35 am
1
0
AREVA/NNSA and Lindsey Graham

AREVA/NNSA and Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson didn't sleep well last night over the bad news for the misguided MOX program. The NRC gave them the extremely bad news that in-reactor testing of MOX will be hard to avoid, if reactors can be found for such tests. This means that once the MOX plant at SRS makes the test fuel that it could halt operation for about 8 years. No wonder it's being called the dead-end MOX plant to nowhere. Too bad tax payers are being hit with about a $900 million plutonium bill this year alone for this madness. This is the baby of Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson and that little thing is looking uglier and uglier.

Little Lamb
44947
Points
Little Lamb 03/01/12 - 09:10 am
0
0
It is better to make

It is better to make electricity from plutonium than from pine trees.

Little Lamb
44947
Points
Little Lamb 03/01/12 - 10:02 am
0
0
The article implies that

The article implies that there are 34 metric tons of plutonium metal sitting in a warehouse somewhere on SRS property. I understand that you, SCEagle Eye, do not want to fabricate it into power reactor fuel. But would you be so kind as to tell us what you do want to do with it?

SCEagle Eye
895
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/01/12 - 11:05 am
1
0
SRS now has stored about 13

SRS now has stored about 13 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, in the form not inside weapons, stored in he old K-Reactor. From the start of this once noble plutonium disposition program almost two decades ago, the cheapest, quickest and safest thing to do with it was to immobilize it in existing high-level waste at the site. But special interests such as the French company AREVA and their big-government allies have made sure that immobilization was killed the most expensive MOX option was pursued. Unfortunately, $$$ is the driver now, not non-proliferation. It is imperative that DOE now conduct a serious study of options for disposing of the plutonium as waste. We are at risk of getting to the end of this decade with no plutonium disposal options if DOE continues to pour billions of our money in the shaky MOX basket and then the program collapses. Right now, with no MOX reactors, no MOX testing program and no ability to present an operational schedule for the MOX plant I'd say that the AREVA/NNSA/Graham/Clyburn/Wilson alignment is having a bad day (if they are astute enough or honest enough to be paying attention to what the NRC just said about need for MOX irradiation testing). At a projected yearly operation cost of $499 million/year for the MOX plant - check the DOE budget request of Feb. 13 for that figure, which went up from $356 million/year in last year's budget request - I know the AREVA socialists will stay the course in harvesting our money, especially given their financial troubles back home. So, a very troubling and costly situation continues gathering speed at SRS. Little Lamb, where do you stand on this MOX mess?

Bubba
144
Points
Bubba 03/01/12 - 11:16 am
0
1
I apologize if this pops up

I apologize if this pops up twice, It didn't post previously, so I have edited it a bit and here we go again...
@omnonom, No, you are not remembering correctly. Why in the world would America send plutonium to France commercially? Speaking of spending billions though, see further explanation below, but we spend a billion dollars every two years just protecting it. Without selling one fuel rod the construction costs are a wash in ten years time of not guarding the plutonium we already have. Since President Carter decided (wrongly) not to close our own nuclear fuel loop, and sold this technology to the French they have been in the MOX and Nuclear Fuel recycling business.

Independant tests were done, it looks like everyone but Tom Clements is Okay at this point. Facts are facts, but the Chronicle asks Tom about this stuff hoping to look fair and balanced and he Never has anything good to say. I get it. It's his job to be curmudgeonly about nuclear stuff.

Still, I find it odd that the spin here is that this is somehow bad news for MOX. I'm sure Graham, Wilson, et al, slept fine last night.

Eagle-eye, who besides you has called MOX a "dead end to nowhere"? I'd too would like to hear the answer to where the plutonium goes if your plan to walk away from all the money spent building the plant thus far is adopted? Are you going send it to Yucca Mountain? Oh no, can't do that. Are we going to spend 500 million dollars a year continuing to guard it. Now That sounds like a money pit! 500 Million a year to Guard it. Wow.

Little Lamb
44947
Points
Little Lamb 03/01/12 - 12:01 pm
0
1
Where do I stand on MOX, you

Where do I stand on MOX, you ask? Well, first off, I say plutonium is not waste. It is a valuable commodity. It contains a lot of potential energy. If you convert the plutonium metal into plutonium oxide fuel pellets, you can make a lot of electricity. I would say that is a better way to make electricity than by cutting down our pine forests and burning them in boilers.

lebarle
0
Points
lebarle 03/01/12 - 02:10 pm
0
0
Some of you commenters seem

Some of you commenters seem knowledgeable about this topic. Can you explain to me how our government managed to mess this up?

At a high level is sounds like a win-win situation to dispose of weapons grade uranium by turning it into fuel for a power plant, but if we have spent many years developing the fuel and STILL haven't lined up any customers somebody messed up.

I know a little about power plants and know that it would be a licensing change to burn the MOX, but this is worth while if the MOX is less expensive than what we are burning now. I see they got Catawba to run two cycles with it. That is a pretty good demonstration.

SCEagle Eye
895
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/01/12 - 08:02 pm
2
0
One problem is that the

One problem is that the plutonium, when viewed from an energy perspective, has a huge negative value. For what is being spent on the MOX program, gold-plated LEU fuel assemblies with embedded rubies could be produced and LEU stockpiled with far more energy value than the plutonium. But the MOX program is not an energy program and from the start never was billed as such. What started out as a well-intentioned non-proliferation program has devolved into a big-government spending program which should curl the hair of any remaining fiscal conservatives. It's the same in France - the electricity company (EdF) is being forced by AREVA and the government to reprocess and use MOX but EdF places a negative value on the plutonium separated from its fuel. And in Japan - oh my what a mess - they are learning the hard lessons of the cost of pursuing a "plutonium economy" - the $20-billion Rokkasho reprocessing plant can't start after three+ years of trying due to technical problems, the breeder reactor Monju has been down since 1995 and there is much talk of finally terminating that costly program, the Japanese have 40 tons of plutonium stockpiled with no clear use and the Japanese don't have dry cask storage so have no place to store used fuel once pools are filled. They were warned 20 years ago to pursue dry cask storage and to invest their money into a uranium reserve rather than a crazy scheme of reprocessing and MOX. Who is looking out in the US to make sure that a costly plutonium situation such as Japan, the UK and Russia now face doesn't happen in the US? With no reactors lined up for MOX testing or use, a MOX-plant-to-nowhere may enrich AREVA but somebody always pays. The big-government crowd seems to be most focused on taking our money and spending it and not making sound decisions concerning one of the largest federal government construction program that's run itself horribly off the rails.

SCEagle Eye
895
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/09/12 - 08:43 pm
2
0
During a February 29 meeting

During a February 29 meeting with the NRC and AREVA on MOX fuel, the NRC made it very clear: testing of new fuel types is what NRC regulations require. So, now it appears MOX irradiation testing will be required at Browns Ferry and at Sequoyah if TVA wants to use MOX for three normal fueling cycles. But why would TVA want to risk their reactors and accept MOX spent fuel storage technical and cost impacts (it's thermally hotter by a lot, ya know)?

texruss
0
Points
texruss 03/21/12 - 07:28 pm
0
0
I read reports about why Duke

I read reports about why Duke didn't run the third cycle of MOX fuel and it was because of poor performance. The test assemblies for Catawba were manufactured in France at Cadarache and that facility is has been closed for over two years.

I would like to see the privileged data the NRC has concerning the issues Duke engineers discovered with the fuel. Duke did have a pump leak at Catawba at the very end of the second cycle because of a reactor cooling pump leak which had to be repaired and which, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was not a reportable event because the radioactive water leakage was within technical specifications.

It would be useful for the TVA to know the NRC details on why Duke pulled out suddenly. But I doubt that information will be forthcoming considering the money and politics involved. And yes, I have also heard the term the "MOX plant to nowhere".

Considering how serious the situation remains even after 12 months at the leaking MOX reactor Unit 3 at Fukushima Daiichi, it will be difficult to convince civilian financiers of the efficacy to fund MOX reactors. The government programs will have to foot the bill because new nuclear are uninsurable by civilian banks without a government guarantee.

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