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TVA might use MOX fuels from SRS

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JACKSON --- The U.S. Energy Department is negotiating with the Tennessee Valley Authority and at least one other potential client to use mixed oxide fuels from a $4.86 billion facility under construction at Savannah River Site.

The 600,000-square-foot complex, scheduled to open in 2016, will dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium by using small amounts to make fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

Clay Ramsey, the National Nuclear Security Administration's MOX federal project director, said TVA has expressed strong interest in using the fuels in some of its six existing commercial reactors.

TVA also has plans to complete a seventh reactor at Watts Bar and has proposed completing two more units at its Bellefonte site in Alabama.

"We're very comfortable right now in the level of interest in our fuel," Mr. Ramsey said Tuesday, adding that a second potential client -- whose identity he could not disclose -- has opened discussions about using the fuel.

Another power producer -- Duke Energy -- had signed an agreement to use the MOX fuel, but the company disclosed in a Feb. 27 financial filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission that it had allowed its contract to lapse.

Mr. Ramsey said DOE and Duke are continuing discussions about resurrecting the contract, and the Energy Department has agreed to concessions that will make the deal more attractive.

"They had asked the Department of Energy for three years of reserves of uranium fuel as an insurance policy against any delays in being able to use the MOX fuel," he said.

Although such an agreement was not possible at the time the contract was being negotiated, DOE has since agreed to set aside a large amount of enriched uranium to ensure that clients using MOX have standard fuels available if for any reason the MOX fuels cannot be used.

Uranium oxide fuel is the normal variety for commercial power plants. MOX contains 5 percent plutonium oxide and 95 percent uranium oxide.

As another incentive to encourage commercial reactor operators to use the fuel, the facility's contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, will also provide certain performance guarantees on its product, he said.

"Now, as we go forward, we have some extra cards on the table," Mr. Ramsey said, noting that the MOX plant will test its first plutonium fuels in 2016 but won't begin shipping fuel to commercial clients until 2018.

"So our first products won't be out for nine more years," he said.

The concept of mixing plutonium with traditional uranium oxide reactor fuel is part of an international nonproliferation plan. The plutonium to be used at the MOX plant comes from dismantled warheads, and its conversion to commercial fuel prevents its use in nuclear weapons.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

MIXED OXIDE FUEL FABRICATION FACILITY

The 600,000-square foot facility under construction at Savannah River Site will produce fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, using small amounts of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium. A look at the project:

$4.86 billion

Cost of facility

17%

Construction completed; the project is expected to be finished in 2016

2,506

Employees at site

Comments (10) Add comment
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Bubba
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Bubba 06/10/09 - 08:38 am
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Nuclear warheads to carbon

Nuclear warheads to carbon free fuel. Wow. Anyone who is worried about fossil fuel pollution should love this project.

dhd1108
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dhd1108 06/10/09 - 09:59 am
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well if the russians won't

well if the russians won't buy it, heyyy.

stalemate2
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stalemate2 06/10/09 - 12:31 pm
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This is very encouraging.

This is very encouraging. However, the DOE should investigate the reason that the French have not been able to use all of the MOX fuel they have produced. S. E. Vandenbosch

zigzag
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zigzag 06/10/09 - 02:56 pm
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The problem is that no smart

The problem is that no smart commercial business would want to have any reliance on a government (DOE) project to provide the necessary fuel. DOE has failed in almost every major project ever planned. Since TVA is funded from the Federal government I suppose some arm twisting took place to get a nuclear utility to take the fuel. MOX will never start up.

glowfrog
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glowfrog 06/11/09 - 09:37 pm
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zigzag, you may be right

zigzag, you may be right about MOX being used in the US, but 'never' is a very long time. However, TVA hasn't received funding from the federal government for about a decade. It is funded by the sale of electricity it generates.

wcasino
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wcasino 06/12/09 - 09:16 am
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Well zigzag, MOX has already

Well zigzag, MOX has already "started up". The Duke plant has operated for two cycles with the lead test MOX assemblies in it and the only reason that it has been temprarily suspended is because of an unrelated mechanical issue concerning the metal guide tubes of the fuel assemblies. Unfortunately, that was the fuel vendors fault, not the DOE's. MOX is one of the fuel avenues of the future, that and Thorium. No smart commercial business would allow billions of dollars worth of energy to simply be buried in a hole in the ground - it will get used eventually. You can bank on it!

SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 09/04/09 - 06:54 am
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lam335
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lam335 09/14/11 - 12:40 pm
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I just want to point out that

I just want to point out that while this article presents the industry's current talking points regarding plutonium reprocessing, that position is a COMPLETE REVERSAL from earlier ways of understanding the relation between re-processing and non-proliferation efforts. The article says:

"The concept of mixing plutonium with traditional uranium oxide reactor fuel is part of an international nonproliferation plan. The plutonium to be used at the MOX plant comes from dismantled warheads, and its conversion to commercial fuel prevents its use in nuclear weapons."

In fact, prior to the 1980s, nuclear fuel reprocessing was seen as dangerous precisely because it might FACILITATE nuclear proliferation:

"On April 7, 1977 , President Jimmy Carter banned the reprocessing of commercial reactor spent nuclear fuel. The key issue driving this policy was the serious threat of nuclear weapons proliferation by diversion of plutonium from the civilian fuel cycle, and to encourage other nations to follow the USA lead."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reprocessing

lam335
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lam335 09/14/11 - 02:32 pm
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The claim that plutonium

The claim that plutonium reprocessing is about non-proliferation is a lie. At the same time that the DOE is trying to get this plutonium off its hands (and possibly make a profit by selling it to the Nuke plant operators), Obama has approved plans to build a new plant to produce MORE plutonium and plutonium-based weapons in New Mexico:

“Obama’s dirtiest, deadly secret exposed: Plutonium ‘Bomb Plant,’ ‘Green future’”
http://www.examiner.com/human-rights-in-national/obama-s-dirtiest-deadly...

“Obama and Works of Death”
http://ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/obama-and-works-death

So while one part of the government is trying to get rid of its existing plutonium (and claiming it is in the interests of non-proliferation), another part is building a facility to produce still MORE of the stuff.

lam335
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lam335 09/14/11 - 07:24 pm
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The only reasons they are

The only reasons they are pushing Mox fuel are that they don't want to pay to dispose of it in a safer way AND they know that they don't really even have a truly viable solution for safely disposing of it in the long-term.

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