Skip to main content

Another Non-proliferation Success Story

On May 5, Eric posted a note on "Megatons to Megawatts". I would like to call attention to an excellent project that complements "Megatons to Megawatts". It's the MOX Project. Whereas "Megatons to Megawatts" converts surplus weapons-grade uranium to fuel, the MOX Project converts surplus weapons-grade plutonium. It's a bilateral project, with both Russia and the U.S. having agreed to convert 34000 kg of weapons-grade plutonium into fuel.

Like most major projects, the MOX Project has encountered and overcome various obstacles. One of the most notable obstacles was that there is no facility in the U.S. that is licensed to fabricate MOX fuel. So that the project could continue to make progress until such a facility becomes available, plutonium dioxide was shipped to Cadarache in France, where it was mixed with uranium dioxide and formed into fuel pellets. The pellets, plus cladding and hardware from the U.S., were then sent to the Mélox facility, also in France, for assembly into (what else?) fuel assemblies. The assemblies were subsequently returned to the U.S.

MOX fuel has been used safely in over 30 European reactors. Where the MOX Project breaks new ground is in the details of the fuel isotopics. European MOX uses reactor-grade plutonium, which is recycled from used commercial reactor fuel. The MOX Project is using weapons-grade plutonium, which, like the uranium for "Megatons to Megawatts", is derived from actual weapons.

As I write this, Duke's Catawba 1 reactor is shut down for a historic refueling in which four MOX lead assemblies will be placed in the core. It is the first use of weapons-grade MOX in a commercial power reactor. Irradiation will destroy most of plutonium, and it will degrade the isotopics of the remaining plutonium so that it is no longer militarily useful. It's another non-proliferation success story.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Comments

Kelly L. Taylor said…
So, Kevin, that means that if there were a operational reprocessing facility in the US, the materials that comprise mixed oxide fuel wouldn't need so many passport stamps and global mileage before making electricity? Sounds like an intriguing prospect for future energy independence and related national security, to me!

It's great to see you blogging here! I look forward to more of your contributions.
Anonymous said…
I appreciate Kevin McCoy's posting. In fact, by testifying as an expert witness in the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing last summer, Kevin played a key role in obtaining the regulatory approval for using the four MOX fuel lead assemblies at Catawba.

As a caution, note that it took the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board more than 18 months to conclude that using four MOX fuel lead test assemblies at one nuclear power plant is OK. This despite the fact that dozens of MOX assemblies are routinely loaded into dozens of nuclear power plants in European countries. The opportunity for intervenors to cause mischief and unnecessary delay is far too high. I doubt seriously that we are going to achieve a "nuclear renaissance" until we drastically reform the regulatory process in this country.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…