For immediate Release: August 23, 2012
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Tom Clements, ANA, Columbia,SC, tel. 803-834-3084
Katherine Fuchs, ANA,Washington, DC, tel. 202-544-0217, ext. 2503
Columbia, SC - A presentation to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on experimental Mixed Oxide plutonium fuel (MOX) made from surplus weapons reveals a major hurdle for the MOX program at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. On August 8, NRC staff inthe preliminary stages of licensing MOX plutonium fuel was informed by Global Nuclear Fuels (GNF) that MOX intended for use in boiling water reactors (BWRs) would need to undergo extensive testing, delaying full-scale MOX production and use.
|Brown's ferry reactor in AL, where the DOE plans to use MOX|
GNF, which makes BWR fuel at its facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, revealed that its licensing plan involves testing sixteen “lead use assemblies” (LUAs) between 2016 and 2025. MOX made from weapons-grade plutonium has never been tested or used in a BWR and the NRC agreed that such MOX was a “new fuel form” requiring multi-year testing in a reactor. During this test period, no commercial BWR MOX use could take place.
This news comes just as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) conducts a series of hearings on its MOX plans, which fail to address GNF’s extended testing schedule for the new fuel. At the first hearing on the DOE’s Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), in Los Alamos, NM Alliance for Nuclear Accountability Director Susan Gordon stated “No MOX plant operational schedule is presented, no plan or schedule for MOX testing in [Tennessee ValleyAuthority] or "generic" reactors is presented and no schedule for full-scale use of MOX is presented. Therefore, no Record of Decision can be issued.”
The PF-4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory is being eyed by DOE to process nuclear weapon plutonium“pits” in order to supply plutonium oxide for the MOX plant. This plan would result in increased risks associated with transporting and processing plutonium. Other public hearings on the Draft SEIS will be held in Santa Fe, NM on Aug. 23, North Augusta, SC on Sept. 4, Chattanooga, TN on Sept. 11, and Tanner, AL, near the Browns Ferry reactors, on Sept. 13. (details here).
The information from GNF will significantly delay operation of the $6-billion MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility now under construction at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in SC, increasing costs.The MOX facility has yet to receive an operating license from the NRC and a possible redesign to process plutonium “pits” not processed at Los Alamos will add to costs.
“The GNF announcement is confirmation that testing of experimental MOX fuel by TVA is required by the NRC and will result in significant delays for the MOX program,” said Katherine Fuchs, Program Director of Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) in Washington, DC. “This confirms exactly what ANA has been saying and what DOE has been hiding – that required MOX testing will add billions in costs, and could render the entire MOX program untenable. Congressional funders alreadyconcerned about the troubled MOX program will not be pleased to hear about this setback.”
GNF would provide the hardware and design specifications for MOX to be made in the SRS MOX plant, if it is finished and can be brought online. AREVA, the French government-owned company,would likely operate the MOX plant making the BWR MOX to GNF specifications. The only BWRs being analyzed for MOX use are at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA),Browns Ferry site (GE Mark I, Fukushima design), but the Draft SEIS makes the startling admission that “TVA does not have a preferred alternative at this time regarding whether to pursue irradiation of MOX fuel in TVA reactors and which reactors might be used for this purpose.”
In its presentation, GNF states that its goal is to “Use LUAs to Demonstrate [Low Enriched Uranium] Equivalent Lifetime,”which means that a test of experimental MOX made from weapons-grade plutonium would be conducted for the same period of time as that of uranium fuel: three two-year fuel cycles (six years). GNF states that it would test 16 LUAs. It is unknown if eight of these test assemblies would be the first assemblies that DOE plans to make in the MOX plant at the end of 2018. GNF estimates these same LUAs will be made at the end of Fiscal Year 2019. Notwithstanding the existing confusion surrounding the MOX program, DOE has refused to clarify if the first assemblies would be for BWR or Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR).
Given the required 6-year testing, there could be no commercial MOX use in BWRs before the tests are concluded in 2025. DOE stated in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request to Congress (on page 392) that “Supplying BWR MOX fuel to the Browns Ferry BWR’s would account for 50 percent of the MOX facility’s production.” If the NRC doesn’t certify BWR MOX fuel until 2025 or later, full production at the MOX plant will be set-back several years.
DOE has steadfastly refused to reveal the operational schedule of the MOX plant or program life-cycle costs to the public. ANA estimates that $15-20 billion are left to be spent on the MOX program, whereas disposing of plutonium as waste would cost around $3.4 billion.
DOE is also pursuing MOX use in TVA’s Sequoyah pressurized water reactors (PWRs), though it remains unclear if a new in-reactor test will be required to use MOX for more than one or two 18-month cycles, compared to three cycles for uranium fuel.
“GNFBWR MOX Fuel” Presentation to NRC, August 8, 2012
ANAMOX memo to TVA Board, August 16, 2012
ANAComments on Draft SEIS, Los Alamos public hearing, August 21, 2012
U.S.Department of Energy notice in Federal Register, Notice of Availability ofthe Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental ImpactStatement, July 27, 2012
DOE FiscalYear 2012 budget request, volume 1