Deal off with single buyer of MOX fuel

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Duke Energy, the only commercial nuclear power plant operator that had agreed to use mixed oxide fuels to be made at Savannah River Site, has ended its contract to use the material.

The U.S. Department of Energy's $4.86 billion MOX facility at SRS, scheduled to open in 2016, is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium by using small amounts to make fuel for commercial reactors.

The termination of Duke's contract -- disclosed Feb. 27 in a company financial filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission -- raises questions about the government's ability to find power plants willing to use the fuel, said Tom Clements, the Southeast nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

"What that means, at least for right now, is that DOE has no reactors lined up to use MOX fuel," he said, noting that the project contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, issued an appeal in October urging companies to join the program.

Donna Martin, the communications director for Shaw Areva, said in a statement Friday that Duke has expressed "continuing interest" in the MOX program despite the termination of the contract. Shaw Areva "is continuing to work with Duke and other utilities," she said, and the company will have no further comment.

Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, N.C., had planned to use the fuel in four reactors at its Catawba nuclear plant in South Carolina and its McGuire plant near Charlotte.

"The way the contract was written, it automatically terminated on Dec. 1 if new terms had not been agreed upon," Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe said. "We more or less ran out of time."

She refused to elaborate on any further negotiations between Duke and DOE.

"We sent MOX Services a letter saying we are still supportive of the program," she said, but "we're not getting into specific details other than to say we're still talking."

Mr. Clements said he believes the contract termination could be linked to problems with French-made MOX fuels tested by Duke in recent years.

Friends of the Earth and the Union of Concerned Scientists reported in August that a test of MOX fuel in Duke's Catawba-1 reactor failed because of abnormal performance and because the assemblies were pulled from the reactor after only two of the necessary three 18-month irradiation cycles.

Mr. Clements said the failed test and delays in the project might have caused Duke to reconsider its commitment.

"They could not reliably count on DOE to reliably provide fuel for their reactors," he said.

Ms. Sipe said the lapsed contract had nothing to do with the tests, which are routinely conducted anytime a utility considers using a different kind of fuel.

"We had done a lot of analysis, as we do with all fuels, of how it performs," she said

The 600,000-square-foot MOX facility is about 15 percent complete. The concept of mixing weapons-grade plutonium with traditional uranium oxide reactor fuel is part of a broad effort to dispose of surplus nuclear weapons and related materials as part of an international nonproliferation plan.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Facts about Duke Energy and the MOX Fuel Plan:

www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/MOX-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Comments (11) Add comment
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Dodarighthang
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Dodarighthang 03/14/09 - 04:21 am
0
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Maybe now those Safety

Maybe now those Safety Concerns are getting heard. Things have a way to getting to the top.

patriciathomas
44
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patriciathomas 03/14/09 - 06:19 am
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It still all comes down to

It still all comes down to money and the trustworthiness of a behemoth bureaucracy like our federal government. Duke is doing the right thing making sure the contracts are protective.

SCEagle Eye
1016
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SCEagle Eye 03/14/09 - 07:58 am
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Funny how the MOX program

Funny how the MOX program used to be about non-proliferation, then it was delinked to Russia's plans (or lack thereof) to use its plutonium. Now, you rarely hear about the noble goals of the program, and as noted above, it's all about your money and lots & lots of it. Perhaps it will all stumble forward as long as Congress doesn't pay attention. A budget-busting, special-interest tip o' the Irish hat to big-government, big-spenders Lindsey Graham and Gresham Barrett. Happy St. Pats Day, a (long) green one for the MOX folks.

Riverman1
154157
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Riverman1 03/14/09 - 08:58 am
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Let's hope the SRS MOX fuel

Let's hope the SRS MOX fuel is better than the French made one. For some reason, I bet it is. As PlutoBoy says, this was never about making money. Possibly we need Congressional pressure to make sure commercial reactors use the MOX product.

i.b.e.w..electric
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i.b.e.w..electric 03/14/09 - 10:09 am
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the problem with the french

the problem with the french nuclear programs is the fact there are no goverment watch dogs such as the nrc critiqueing them ,because of this where it takes us 10 yrs and billions of dollars to build a nuclear plant they are doing it in 3 yrs and thats scarry.as i have learned first hand in the past the nrc can be a pain at times ,but thank god for them.this is most likley the problem with the french mox fuel ,no one to regulate its production process so it was most likley hurried and thus shoddy.

FedupwithAUG
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FedupwithAUG 03/14/09 - 11:12 am
0
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Maybe it wasn't working and

Maybe it wasn't working and has the potential to leak radioactive matter? Of course they wouldn't tell us that. Geothermal energy is the way to go. They wont tell you about that because once built they could produce clean energy almost for nothing with no waste.

joebowles
108
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joebowles 03/14/09 - 03:35 pm
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Fedup, if we don't attempt to

Fedup, if we don't attempt to convert the weapons grade plutonium, what do we do with it?

Dodarighthang
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Dodarighthang 03/14/09 - 04:41 pm
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Riverman1, MOX has said

Riverman1, MOX has said repeatly "we don't want to be like SRS". That is the problem. SRS has always put safety first. If you are familiar with safety culture at MOX, you get canned!

scotpluto
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scotpluto 03/14/09 - 09:10 pm
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MOX fuel production standards

MOX fuel production standards are set by the producer and the customer - there is no agreed national or international standard. MOX fuel is inspected, sure, but in terms of safety performance in the reactor there are serious failings. Plutonium homogeneity - including hot spots of plutonium that have the potential to damage the fuel pins, as well as denisty, pellet diameter, are all problems that AREVA the French designer at SRP would rather know one asked questions about - that's why they have refused demands over years to release quality control data for fuel produced for japanese clients - one reason that two batches of MOX delivered to Japan in 1999 and 2001 remain unused. This is a program so illogical no matter what angle you look at it that it deserves a swift clean termination.

Traceman59
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Traceman59 03/17/09 - 08:06 pm
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Thorium Power (THPW) is a

Thorium Power (THPW) is a "US" company that is in the final stages of testing Thorium as a reactor fuel in place of our current Uranium fuels. This Thorium Technology testing has been in process for over 5 years and it can be retrofitted into current light water reactors with minimum changes.
Our current Uranium fueled reactors produce plutonium as waste. This is the waste storage problem currently stored at the reactor sites and originally aimed for storage at Yucca. This waste plutonium could be used for Nuclear weapons if it gets into the wrong hands. This waste plutonium also contains much unused energy due to the inefficient burn of Uranium fuel.
Thorium Power's technology will burn plutonium along with their Thorium fuel within the reactor. So, we can slowly burn off the stockpiled Plutonium "as we use it to make electricity". The spent fuel from their reactor has an efficient burn, therefore the waste is minimal and not useful for weapons.
This is a "US" company, with existing patents, that could place us in the forefront of the nuclear renaissance.

Traceman59
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Traceman59 03/17/09 - 08:20 pm
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By the way, Thorium is one of

By the way, Thorium is one of the largest "global" supply of fuel for the future. It eliminates the problem of having only the "few" suppliers of energy resources for the world.

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