Despite budget cuts, MOX reactor fuel stirs new interest

Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 12:57 PM
Last updated 8:13 PM
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Broader marketing and lower natural gas prices are luring potential new clients interested in mixed oxide reactor fuel, even as federal budget cuts threaten to stall a MOX plant.

“We expect, actually, there to be more demand than the plant has capacity for,” said Kelly Trice, the president of Shaw AREVA MOX Services, which is building the facility at Savannah River Site.

During a briefing last week before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Trice told NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane his company’s nuclear technology subsidiary, AREVA NP, has been employed to become a wholesaler for mixed oxide fuel.

The MOX facility, about 60 percent complete, is the cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plan to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel.

However, the plant has become increasingly expensive and behind schedule, with construction costs recently revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed cutting $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s 2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that might have rendered the plant “unaffordable.”

Despite cuts that could reduce the project workforce from 1,900 to 1,400 this fall, company officials and the department are continuing to seek clients for MOX fuel, Trice said.

“I can’t put a signed piece of paper on the table at this point, but I would tell you we’ve been negotiating with the department for some time on a master fuel contract,” he said. “That is at the point of ready-to-sign subject to these other (budget) decisions being made.”

DOE would pay for modifications that would enable commercial nuclear plants to use the MOX fuel, which further adds incentive for utilities, he said.

Other available incentives could include assistance with shipping and the transport containers and licensing to use the fuel.

One of the biggest drivers of new interest in MOX is the lower price of natural gas, he said.

“AREVA actually would tell you that they have several utilities who have come to the table and are interested,” he said.

Trice also gave a status report on construction and cited some examples of the size and scope of the MOX plant and its unique components.

“We moved about 2.5 million yards of earth to dig that hole,” he said. “The overall plant is about 25 feet underground. The base mat is 6.5 feet thick and the roof itself stands about 75 feet above ground. The roof itself is about six feet thick, to give you a feel.”

The plant will eventually house about 350 “glove boxes” that are used to store and handle nuclear material, including plutonium from dismantled warheads.

“The larger ones weigh 110,000 pounds and are 250 feet long, so about the size of a small airplane – I guess large jet in that case,” he said.

MacFarlane asked Trice about the plant’s newest projected completion date.

Trice replied that the newest date, based on funding levels, is 2019.

“The new (Energy) secretary is weighing different options, and we believe in the near term he’s going to make a decision on the path forward, and we’ll know then,” he said. “And I’m sorry I can’t give you much more than that.”

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jimmymac 09/03/13 - 01:59 pm

I hope this facility gets the funding that's needed to go on. MOX fuel can be an alternative source of fuel for nuclear power and it should be promoted not de-funded.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 09/03/13 - 04:51 pm

I don't get the connection between MOX and natural gas prices, first sentence.

Riverman1 09/03/13 - 04:55 pm
"One of the biggest drivers

"One of the biggest drivers of new interest in MOX is the lower price of natural gas, he said."

Haha..I should have known LL would beat me to it. Me either. Wouldn't lower natural gas prices decrease MOX interest?

GiantsAllDay 09/03/13 - 06:35 pm
In the interest of full

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not read the full .pdf article, only the AC article. But I did read this article 3 times in order to understand it the best I could.
"lower natural gas prices are luring potential new clients interested in mixed oxide reactor fuel"
"I can’t put a signed piece of paper on the table at this point, but I would tell you we’ve been negotiating with the department for some time on a master fuel contract"
AREVA had designated one of its spin offs a fuel wholesaler. How does this create a market among the utilities?
They want DOE to pay for the customer plant modifications
Can anyone else see where this is going? So after reading this 3 times, I have come to the conclusion, SHUCK AND JIVE.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 09/03/13 - 11:07 pm
MOX fuel give-away

I think what Trice is trying to say with that natural gas comment is that the MOX fuel will have to essentially be given away for free as an enticement to get utilities to participate. This is an admission that the MOX fuel will be provided at far below cost and that the tax payer will have to foot an even bigger part of the tab. It's also an admission that there is no market for MOX unless the MOX fuel is way cheaper than uranium fuel. So, it's rather a negative comment about the non-existent market for MOX unless big cost advantages come along with it. But what utility will go for cheap fuel in order to take on reactor risks with MOX use and the PR headache that using experimental plutonium fuel brings? Trice needs to name one utility or stop saying all the unnamed utilities are falling over themselves to get at MOX fuel.

And, whet he said also seem like an admission that the Tennessee Valley Authority has little interest in MOX. Overall, sounds like they have no customers for an mismanaged $8-billion MOX plant being built "on speculation." Way to go Lindsey Graham and out-of-control big government!

GiantsAllDay 09/04/13 - 12:23 am
SCEagleEye, That's pretty

That's pretty much the impression I get.
1) There is no good news in this article.
2) Why did Pavey choose the headline when nothing in the article supports the headline? Will Pavey run with anything that Trice feeds him? What is Pavey's background and does he know anything about anything?
3) I told Humble Angela a few months ago that you just couldn't go and load MOX fuel in a commercial reactor in the United States. Now Trice is confirming that by saying he wants DOE (ie the FREAKING TAXPAYER) to pay for the plant modifications. This will require an extended plant outage (far above and beyond a normal refueling and maintenance outage). Every day of an extended outage is a great loss of revenue for the electrical utility. So you're right, they'll have to give this stuff away before they find any suckers.
4) Are Trice and Clint Wolfe reincarnated snake oil salesmen from the 1800's?
5) Will the AC believe anything they're told if it means helping the CSRA economy? Remember, taxpayers from coast to coast have to pay for this travesty.
6) The good news is the plug will be pulled on this, eventually. The bad news is untold millions of $$$ are still to be wasted before the powers that be man up and admit it
--Respecfully submitted by a career nuclear industry professional and a pro-nuke.

LSuschena 09/04/13 - 01:43 pm
Why comparison?

First what is MOX? MOX (mixed-odixe) is uranium-oxide and plutonium-oxide that can be burned in commercial nuclear plants. This will require some modifications to the existing plants to use it.

Why do we want to do this? There are tons of weapons grade plutonium from dismantling of the bombs, that has to be disposed of. The only way to get rid of it it to burn it up in a reactor core. Not only US bombs, but also Russian bombs that have been dismantled will be processed at the MOX plant.

The MOX will be made available, basically at little or no cost to the utilities as fuel. Elimiates a deadly material and provides a lower cost fuel for the utilities. Not all plants will be converted.

This will lower the fuel costs of nuclear plants, thus comparison with natural gas.

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