Slow progress towards US use of MOX

21 February 2011

While construction continues on a mixed oxide nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River, negotiations on where the fuel will be used remain in the early stages. 


The $4.8 billion Savannah River MOX Plant is being built by Shaw Areva MOX Services to combine 34 tonnes of 'surplus' plutonium oxide with uranium oxide to create fuel for conventional power reactors. Russia is disposing of an identical amount of plutonium through a bilateral arms reduction deal that eliminates explosive fuel from some 17,000 unwanted nuclear weapons.


Savannah River MOX Plant construction
Construction work at Savannah River


While finding a customer for the MOX is of course vital for America's plans, a lengthy trial and approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is required before MOX can be used as routine in a commercial US reactor.


Managing the disposal for the US government, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had been working with Duke Power by way of a trial in Catawba 1 using MOX assemblies manufactured in France. This trial ended fairly successfully in mid-2008 despite the expansion of fuel rods beyond Areva's acceptance limit, which is well below regulatory limits. At that time, Areva asserted that the trial would not have to be repeated.


Several months later however, Duke Power allowed its contract with NNSA to lapse, opening the question of where the Savannah River MOX would eventually be used. In July 2009 NNSA announced that TVA was set to negotiate MOX trials, but the latest announcement of a "letter of intent" concerning "mutual desire to begin discussions on the potential use of MOX in TVA's nuclear power plants" indicates little progress.


TVA is owned by the US government and operates six nuclear power reactors at three sites in Alabama and Tennessee. "Opening discussions with TVA is an important step forward," said Areva Inc CEO Jacques Besainou. Besides a leading role in the design and construction of the plant, Areva will also supply any additional test assemblies and market the MOX fuel produced once operation starts in 2016.


Researched and written
by World Nuclear News