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VOL. 127 | NO. 145 | Thursday, July 26, 2012

TVA Considering Fuel Made From Nuclear Weapons


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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee Valley Authority is preparing an environmental impact statement on the use of fuel made from surplus nuclear weapons to power its nuclear plants.

TVA released a set of talking points on Tuesday about the environment impact statement, which will appear as a draft this week in the Federal Register, TVA spokesman Ray Golden told The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The mixed oxide fuel, also called MOX fuel, is a blend of plutonium and uranium, but the variety TVA is considering is made from retired nuclear weapons, according to the TVA.

The utility has tentatively agreed to try out the fuel in its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants in Tennessee and Alabama, but the timetable is set for 2018.

"TVA is willing to consider using mixed oxide fuel if it meets three criteria: It is operationally and environmentally safe; economically beneficial to TVA customers; and licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Golden said.

Some critics of the MOX fuel, which is a hotter fuel blend, say it makes reactors harder to control.

"The use of this experimental fuel in TVA's aging reactors could have negative safety reactions," said Tom Clements, an environmental advocate for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

Golden said MOX fuel made from spent nuclear fuel and uranium has been tried in Europe and briefly used in a commercial reactor owned by Duke Energy.

The blended fuel will be produced at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in Aiken, S.C., which is in its fifth year of construction and due to start producing fuel in 2016.

Despite the fact that the facility being built to produce the fuel has a nearly $5 billion price tag, Golden said TVA expects the MOX fuel to be cheaper than the simple uranium it was blended with because the price would be negotiated in a TVA/Department of Energy contract.

The Department of Energy would also bear the cost for TVA to use and store the fuel.

But Clements argued that DOE may give the fuel to TVA at a "bargain basement" price because "nobody else will take it (MOX), but the American taxpayers have already paid dearly for it."

The plant will use U.S. weapons-grade plutonium, created by a surplus of plutonium after the Cold War, to manufacture the nuclear fuel. The company that is building the plant at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site is Shaw Areva MOX Services LLC.

The design of the South Carolina plant is based on MOX facilities in France, where the fuel has been used for almost two decades.

TVA has been discussing the possibility of using the fuel since 2009 and had public meetings on the idea in 2010.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Dave McIntyre said TVA must apply for license amendments at the Sequoyah and Browns Ferry plants to use the MOX fuel, but those applications have not yet been made. McIntyre said the review process would take one to two years.

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, www.timesfreepress.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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