Construction started on 1 August on the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River, South Carolina. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) facility will convert at least 34 tonnes of surplus US weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel.
Under an agreement signed in 2000, the USA and Russia agreed to dispose of 34 tonnes each of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, in total enough material for approximately seventeen thousand nuclear weapons.
"The start of construction of the US MOX facility helps us fulfill an international nonproliferation agreement and marks a major step forward in our efforts with Russia to dispose of surplus weapon-grade plutonium so that it can never be used again for nuclear weapons," said NNSA's Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, William Tobey.
Congressman Joe Wilson, from the Second Congressional District of South Carolina said, "This new facility is an important step in America's efforts to dispose of unwanted weapons-grade plutonium in a responsible manner."
"As a nation committed to ending the proliferation of nuclear arms, our MOX facility will turn a tool of war into an instrument of peaceful diplomacy and sound environmental policy."
"The construction of this new facility means more than just a commitment to cleaning up our supply of excess plutonium. It will bring new jobs to South Carolina and provide a readily available supply of nuclear fuel to help meet our energy needs. There is no reason, in a time of increased demand, that we should let a vital energy source sit dormant in the ground."
The new facility will be constructed by Shaw Areva MOX Services. The MOX fuel manufactured by the facility will be used in commercial nuclear reactors in North Carolina and South Carolina - generating enough electricity for around one million households for 50 years. The NNSA told World Nuclear News this estimate was based on projections that the MOX fuel would produce 200 billion kWh of electricity.
The NNSA is a separately organized agency within the US Department of Energy established by Congress in 2000. The NNSA is responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. It maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the US nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the US Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the USA and abroad.
National Nuclear Security Administration
WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper
WNA's Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) information paper