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Duke Energy won't do more MOX tests

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Duke Energy, which has been testing French-made mixed-oxide nuclear fuels in its Catawba 1 reactor to gauge the suitability of similar fuels to be made at Savannah River Site, has exercised an option not to conduct a third 18-month testing cycle.

"It was used for two operating cycles and we made a decision that an additional cycle is not required," said Rita Sipe, a nuclear media relations spokeswoman for Duke Energy.

The reason, she said, is that the first two cycles provided sufficient data that will be analyzed as part of the evaluation process for MOX, which is made by blending plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs with conventional reactor fuels.

Duke has a pending "expression of interest" with the National Nuclear Security Administration in using MOX fuels that will be made at the $4.86 billion facility under construction at SRS.

The decision not to conduct a third test cycle at Catawba 1, she added, should not be construed as a lack of interest. "Duke remains very much interested in MOX."

Tom Clements, the Southeast nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, said, however, that Duke's decision appears to indicate an intent to abandon its interest.

"It is my feeling that Duke is trying to step politely and silently away from this troubled MOX test and will be glad to be rid of involvement in the whole program," he said.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he said, might be unwilling to license the fuel for commercial use without a more substantial series of tests.

Jennifer Wagner, a spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said, however, that the two cycles already completed will satisfy the federal requirements.

"Irradiation of the MOX lead test assemblies for two 18-month cycles was successfully completed as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," she said in an e-mail. "After a post-irradiation examination of five rods from the LTAs is completed next year, sufficient data will exist from the two cycles of irradiation to demonstrate that MOX fuel performs satisfactorily."

The most recent testing cycle ended in May 2008, after which some abnormalities were noted in the fuel rods. Ms. Sipe said some of the rods were sent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for further evaluation, and the results remain incomplete.

Those abnormalities included unexpected expansion of the rods and some bowing. Ms. Wagner said the conditions had nothing to do with the fuel being MOX and conventional uranium fuels are known to have similar conditions.

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said licensing authorities were made aware of the abnormalities.

"In talking with our experts this is something that happens from time to time," he said. "It does not appear to be MOX-related but they want to fully understand it before they go any farther."

The plant under construction at SRS is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium. The main process building is about 21 percent complete, and the overall project is 38 percent complete. It is scheduled to open in 2016, with fuel delivery to clients two years later.

In addition to Duke Energy, other potential users of the MOX fuels include Tennessee Valley Authority and at least one other entity the Energy Department has not publicly identified.

Jim Giusti, an Energy Department spokesman at SRS, said federal authorities remain confident there will be ample clients to use the MOX fuels.

"There are plenty of reactors interested but they have to know ahead of time when it will be available," he said, predicting there will be more clients formally involved as the project moves closer to actual fuel delivery.

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

MOX PLANT TIMETABLE

2011: Structural completion

2014 : Facilities ready for testing

2016: First plutonium fuel produced

2018: Actual fuel delivery to clients

OTHERS INTERESTED

In addition to Duke Energy, other potential users of the MOX fuels include Tennessee Valley Authority and at least one other entity whom the Energy Department has not publicly identified.

Source: U.S. Energy Department

Comments (9) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/17/09 - 05:43 am
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Duke doesn't want to use the

Duke doesn't want to use the MOX fuel, but the government can make them.

jackragg
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jackragg 11/17/09 - 06:19 am
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Wow Riverman1. Did you even

Wow Riverman1. Did you even read this article? And furthermore the primary purpose of MOX is to lower our nuclear weapons stockpiles. Using the resulting materials as fuel is just a plus. The French have been using this technology successfully for years and it is proven to work.

SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 11/17/09 - 09:39 am
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Nobody in the world has ever

Nobody in the world has ever used MOX made from weapons plutonium, which has different characteristics from the reactor-grade MOX that EdF is forced to use in France. With the test here aborted before sufficient data was gathered to demonstrate that MOX can get to a certain fuel burn-up, it will have to be repeated. No valid MOX test, no reactors to use MOX, yet the government keeps shoveling tax payer money into the troubled project. Big government and special interests have joined to create a real rip-off.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/17/09 - 11:08 am
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Wow back at ya, Jackragg, I

Wow back at ya, Jackragg, I understand the MOX issue thoroughly. SCEagleEye obviously does, too. As I said, the government can make Duke use our MOX unless something very bad showed up in the two tests. Pressure from the government is the only reason they even tested it. They don't want to use it.

corgimom
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corgimom 11/17/09 - 11:44 am
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"The most recent testing

"The most recent testing cycle ended in May 2008, after which some abnormalities were noted in the fuel rods. Ms. Sipe said some of the rods were sent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for further evaluation, and the results remain incomplete." SCEagleEye, you are a moron. Would you like for them to continue the tests so that there can be a failure and a nuclear accident?

Gleep
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Gleep 11/17/09 - 02:32 pm
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You geniuses amaze me. All

You geniuses amaze me. All you experts. So unnaccountable, and not much different than Tom who shares his "Opinion". Completely unnaccountable except to his vey partial constituency. Well his opinion and 5 bucks will get you a nice latte at Starbuck's. At least the coffe will be good. It amazes me that whiny bed-wetting liberals like y'all would tell lies at worst and spun half-truths at best. The MOX Project is perhaps the single most inportant piece of President Obama's nuclear non-proliferation plans. Remember when he said he wanted all plutonum weapons removed from all countries arsenals? That's gotta hurt. Republican Administrations and Demcratic presidential administrations favor MOX.

SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 11/17/09 - 11:09 pm
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The MOX project is indeed the

The MOX project is indeed the single most important project at SRS....for lining the pockets of contractors and pouring money into the coffers of the French government-owned socialist company Areva. it is always amazing that those parading as conservatives love this project when it would have been cheaper to treat the plutonium as waste. This nuclear socialist approach will cave in to true fiscal conservatism as the government runs out of Chinese money to spend. But for now, there still is no valid MOX test and it's back to the drawing boards for DOE's MOX approach.

Rommel
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Rommel 11/19/09 - 12:58 pm
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I have not seen enough data

I have not seen enough data to come to a conclusion if the MOX project could be a success. From what I have read it could be the MOX fuel pellets or the cladding that has caused the problems. Only a through review will be able to establish the cause on the problem. Both issues are fixable but the MOX fuel fix would be more difficult. I am for using weapon material in fuel as the best way to dispose of it and still make some use of it. That is even if it is not necessarily cost effective. I do not want the MOX project to become a bottomless pit for spending though. I am looking forward to seeing and test results so I can arrive at a better opinion.

SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 12/02/09 - 08:35 pm
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A few weeks have passed since

A few weeks have passed since this news broke and DOE still has yet to demonstrate that the MOX test was successful, as they claim. DOE, here's the evidence to support your claims?

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