DOE’s Plans to Use Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Jolted by Duke Energy’s Withdrawal From Program

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Tom Clements, 803-834-3084
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

DOE’s Plans to Use Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Jolted by Duke Energy’s Withdrawal From Program

Future of MOX Program Again in Doubt as DOE Now Has No Nuclear Reactors to Use the Controversial Fuel

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The troubled plan by the Department of Energy (DOE) to use nuclear
fuel made from surplus plutonium was recently dealt a grave blow with
the loss of all reactors that had been expected to use the fuel.

Duke Energy Corporation has allowed its contract to use the
controversial mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in four Duke reactors in North and
South Carolina to lapse, throwing into question the survivability of a
program that has stumbled from one problem to another over the last
decade.

In its annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC) on February 27, 2009, Duke revealed that the contract to use MOX
had "automatically terminated on December 1, 2008" after a failed
attempt to renegotiate the contract with Shaw AREVA MOX Services (MOX
Services), contracted by DOE to carry out the MOX program. Duke has
said it "is interested in receiving a future proposal from MOX Services
for the use of MOX fuel," but right now the planned use in the Catawba
and McGuire reactors has been terminated.

Due to this negative turn of events for the misguided and costly MOX
program, the public interest organization Friends of the Earth is again
calling for the program to be terminated once and for all.

"Given the lack of reactors to use the plutonium fuel and ongoing
problems over the last decade with this program, it's past time for
Congress to pull the plug and halt construction of the MOX plant at the
Savannah River Site," said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign
Coordinator with Friends of the Earth in Columbia, South Carolina.

A DOE official has informed Friends of the Earth that DOE is
speaking with three utilities about possible MOX use and that Duke may
reenter into negotiations. It is believed that the Tennessee Valley
Authority could be interested, though, like other utilities, it would
have to conduct a lengthy MOX test to validate use of the fuel.

"The events around the loss of the Duke reactors should serve as a
red flag to other utilities that their participation in the troubled
plutonium program will be fraught with risks and obstacles," Clements
said.

Friends of the Earth and the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed
in August 2008 that a test of MOX fuel in Duke's Catawba-1 reactor had
failed due to abnormal fuel assembly performance and the that the "lead
test assemblies" (LTAs) were pulled from the reactor after only two of
the necessary three 18-month irradiation cycles. The failure of this
test, the groups claimed, left DOE without the required information
necessary to certify with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the
performance of the fuel, being tested for the first time with weapons
plutonium.

It is unknown what impact the failed LTA test has had on Duke's
decision to withdraw from the MOX program but DOE's lack of
guaranteeing a reliable schedule for MOX delivery, due to the failed
MOX test and continuous delays in the project, have likely caused Duke
to reconsider use of the fuel. Such fuel made from high-quality weapons
plutonium has never been used before.

The test MOX fuel had been manufactured with U.S. weapons plutonium
shipped from the Los Alamos National Laboratory via Charleston, S.C. to
a now-closed French MOX plant (Cadarche), making a repeat of the
54-month irradiation test difficult. Irradiated fuel pins were
evidently removed from failed MOX test assembles stored in the Catawba
spent fuel pool and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for
testing. Information on analysis of the test fuel is not available. No
matter which reactors use MOX, the test will have to be repeated for
three 18-month cycles, causing further uncertainty, delays, and cost
escalation.

Despite the lack of reactors to use the plutonium fuel, MOX Services
is continuing to use taxpayer dollars to construct a $5-billion factory
at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina to make the fuel
from 34 metric tons of "surplus" weapons-grade plutonium.

On March 4, 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) release
a report entitled Department of Energy: Contract and Project Management
Concerns at the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of
Environmental Management (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-406T),
which underscores potential problems in reliably delivering MOX fuel to
a utility. Concerning the MOX plant at SRS, GAO stated that "the
project's schedule, in addition to other problems, does not adhere to a
key practice that is fundamental to having a sufficiently reliable
schedule-specifically, MFFF project staff have not conducted a risk
analysis on their current schedule using statistical techniques. ...
Consequently, NNSA cannot adequately state its level of confidence in
meeting the MFFF project's completion date, and NNSA's schedule for the
project therefore may not be reliable." Thus, utilities are nervous if
their need for a reliable schedule for fuel delivery can be met.

Friends of the Earth has also been informed by a DOE official that
DOE offered Duke conventional enriched uranium (LEU) fuel if it could
not meet a MOX delivery schedule but negotiations for that LEU fuel did
not produce positive results before the Duke MOX contract expired on
December 1.

Notes:

Duke Energy Corporation "Form 10-K" annual report filed with the SEC, Feb. 27, 2009

http://idea.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326160/000119312509041096/d10k.htm

"In 1999, Duke Energy Carolinas entered into a contract with Shaw
AREVA MOX Services (MOX Services; formerly Duke COGEMA Stone &
Webster, LLC) to purchase mixed-oxide fuel for use in the McGuire and
Catawba nuclear reactors. Under this contract, beginning in 2007, MOX
Services would fabricate batches of mixed-oxide fuel from stockpiles of
plutonium derived from surplus weapons at a facility under construction
at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River site in Aiken,
South Carolina. Mixed oxide fuel is similar to conventional uranium
fuel. Following review and approval by the NRC, four MOX fuel lead
assemblies, fabricated in France, were irradiated for two fuel cycles
(approximately three years) in Unit 1 of the Catawba Nuclear Station.
In 2008, Duke Energy Carolinas and MOX Services engaged in discussions
to renegotiate the terms of the contract prior to its expiration on
December 1, 2008. The parties were unable to reach agreement and the
contract automatically terminated on December 1, 2008. Duke Energy
Carolinas has communicated to MOX Services that it continues to support
the objectives of the surplus weapons disposition program and is
interested in receiving a future proposal from MOX Services for the use
of MOX fuel." (page 14)

FOE-UCS news release on Failed MOX test in Dukes Catawba Reactor, August 4, 2008:

http://www.foe.org/nuclear-fuel-test-failure-raises-concerns
and
http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/nuclear-fuel-test-failure-0140....

UCS-FOE 4-page Backgrounder of August 4, 2008 on Failed MOX Test in
Duke's Catawba Reactor - "AREVA Fuel Assembly Problems Doom DOE
Plutonium Fuel Test" - available on request

For Duke's June 10, 2008 report to the NRC, with first public
mention of failed MOX test, go to the NRC's ADAMS digital library and
search for "ML081650181" at www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams/web-based.html.

For an April 2008 AREVA presentation that discusses the abnormal
fuel assembly growth problem, go to NRC's ADAMS digital library and
search for "ML081300390."

Shaw Areva MOX Services October 18, 2008 solicitation "To All
Nuclear Utilities in the USA" for more reactors to use MOX available on
request.

 

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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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