MOX fuel facility draws interest

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A new player has emerged in the National Nuclear Security Administration's quest for commercial nuclear power producers willing to explore the use of mixed oxide fuel to be made at a $4.86 billion facility under construction at Savannah River Site.

Energy Northwest in Richland, Wash., is considering the use of MOX fuel at its Columbia Generating Station nuclear reactor and could begin testing experimental lead "pins" of MOX as early as 2013, according to a proposal shared with the U.S. Energy Department. A company spokesman, however, said the date was speculative and the process could take much longer.

The MOX plant being built in South Carolina is designed to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs by blending small amounts of the material with uranium to create fuel usable in commercial power reactors.

The program is part of the U.S. nonproliferation strategy to eliminate weapons-grade materials and prevent their exploitation by terrorists. It is also part of an agreement in which Russia will dispose of similar amounts of bomb-grade plutonium.

According to documents obtained by the Friends of the Earth environmental group, the initial MOX pellets would be fabricated at the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, using a design developed by Global Nuclear Fuel, a venture of GE, Toshiba and Hitachi.

If the program is deemed successful, it could lead to the use of MOX fuels made in South Carolina.

The test program would also require a letter of intent to persuade the Energy Department to help finance production of the initial pins, the report said.

Such a letter would include a pledge from Energy Northwest to reload with fuels made at the department's MOX plant.

Tennessee Valley Authority, which agreed last year to explore using MOX in five of its reactors, is the only potential client for the fuels.

In 2007, Duke Energy agreed to use the fuel in its reactors but dropped out of the program in 2009 after two years of testing.

Concerns about the program have included the costs of converting commercial reactors to specifications to use MOX fuel and the potential for increased security and transportation costs.

Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign coordinator with Friends of the Earth, said documents obtained from Energy Northwest show there are lingering reservations about MOX.

"Due to nonproliferation and safety concerns, weapons plutonium should not be used as fuel in the Columbia Generating Station or any other nuclear power reactor," Clements said, noting the company executives were also concerned about the lack of interest in the fuel from other power producers, which, as one Energy Northwest e-mail discussion noted, "doesn't look good politically."

The MOX program laid out in the documents is also speculative, as it would require licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and would be dependent on the capacity to fabricate MOX test assemblies made from weapons-grade plutonium, Clements said.

MORE ONLINE

Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station:
http://www.energy-northwest.com/generation/cgs/index.php

What is MOX fuel?
http://www.moxproject.com/images/factsheets/moxfuel.pdf

Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility at SRS:
http://www.moxproject.com/

Comments (8) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/03/11 - 08:45 pm
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Trying to get someone to buy

Trying to get someone to buy the MOX stuff is getting to be so bad they will have a billboard on I-95 with a sign before long advertizing the MOX for sale.

SCEagle Eye
895
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SCEagle Eye 02/03/11 - 10:09 pm
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Great idea. "MOX Going for

Great idea. "MOX Going for Broke Sale" - 50% off plus free radiation detector and an SRS mug with every load. Use at your own risk as there is no guarantee that it won't harm reactor operation or cause endless political and proliferation headaches. OK, then, how about 60% off?!

SCEagle Eye
895
Points
SCEagle Eye 02/03/11 - 11:57 pm
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0
Now's the time to post a

Now's the time to post a billboard: "50% Off MOX Fuel, No Guarantees Against Reactor Damage but All Interested Get Free SRS Mug."

DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 02/04/11 - 08:11 am
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0
Political or economical? Is

Political or economical? Is the MOX fuel Premium,Plus or Unleaded?

NewHere
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NewHere 02/04/11 - 12:51 pm
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Mox is a good project. And

Mox is a good project. And mox fuel is used at nuclear plants in France. The biggest issue that the MOX has right now, is budget and schedule, they can not sell the fuel if they don't know when the facility is going to be finish.

SCEagle Eye
895
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SCEagle Eye 02/04/11 - 04:09 pm
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MOX made from weapons-grade

MOX made from weapons-grade plutonium never been used before beyond the failed test in the Catawba PWR. It's not the same as the reactor-grade MOX that Electricie de France is forced to take off the hands of AREVA. There never has been any testing of weapons-grade MOX in any BWR worldwide.

NewHere
0
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NewHere 02/04/11 - 05:19 pm
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Well the weapon grade is

Well the weapon grade is cleaner with less impurities, what is the problem with that, we should be recycling spent fuel any way.

Rod Adams
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Rod Adams 02/05/11 - 04:26 am
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Why is the information from a

Why is the information from a well known antinuclear interest group featured so prominently as source material for this story? Clements's accusation that using weapons plutonium in a reactor can lead to weapons proliferation is nonsensical. The material gets DESTROYED when fissioned to produce heat and electricity. The material already exists and there is no other way to destroy it other than through fission.

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