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: , , , , ,


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

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

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.


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 Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot., the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.

From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…