Recently a pair of antinuclear groups issued a misleading press release calling in question the results of trials of MOX (mixed oxide) fuel lead test assemblies (LTAs) at Duke Energy’s Catawba nuclear power plant. The groups suggest that the tests failed—this is not true. The tests provided AREVA with a thorough understanding of the fuel’s performance before it is used on wider scale. There is no need to restart the tests.
MOX fuel has been used safely and effectively for years in more than 30 reactors in Europe and Japan. The use of MOX fuel has several key benefits: it is a way to save natural resources while alleviating the nuclear waste issue. In the case of the U.S. program, it enables the conversion of former nuclear weapons material into CO2-free energy.
The additional facts about the MOX fuel tests are these:
- Operation of the LTAs during their planned two cycles of irradiation proceeded flawlessly. The MOX fuel assemblies were placed in symmetric core locations where their power level could be monitored throughout their irradiation. Nuclear performance was excellent, consistent with expectations, and as predicted by the core design codes.
- Three of the four MOX LTAs grew slightly longer than the pre-established growth limit for reinsertion for a third cycle. The pre-established growth limit for the MOX LTAs is the same as for commercially supplied fuel.
- At no time did the MOX LTAs create or present a safety issue for the Catawba reactor. Monitoring of the operating reactor showed that the LTAs performed within all established limits and analyses.
- It does not appear that the slightly higher growth in the LTAs was related to the MOX fuel in any way. However, the root cause analysis is not yet complete; we should not speculate about the exact cause until the data is in and thorough analysis is complete.
- Duke Energy has not yet decided whether it will reinsert the assemblies for a third cycle. AREVA already is studying the best option for modifying the assembly design to ensure the fuel’s performance for a potential third cycle and for future use.