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

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…