In death knell for MOX project, U.S. to deem 6 tons of plutonium nuclear waste

Reuters

The U.S. government plans to designate 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium now stored in South Carolina as waste and ship it to a storage facility in New Mexico, according to a preliminary notice filed on a federal website on Wednesday.

The notice, to be posted on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), says its “preferred alternative” for disposal of the 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium would be to turn it into nuclear waste and store it in New Mexico.

Critics said the notice was a sign that DOE could decide to scrap a multibillion-dollar project in South Carolina that will mix 34 tons of surplus plutonium with uranium to form safer fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.

The facility, begun under a 2000 treaty with Russia to dispose of nuclear weapons, is years overdue and billions of dollars over budget. It is being built by CBI-Areva MOX Services, a joint venture of U.S.-based Chicago Bridge & Iron NV and Areva SA, a French state-owned nuclear group.

“This decision is a fatal blow to the mismanaged MOX project at the (Savannah River Site), as it will set the precedent that plutonium is waste and not a commercial product to be used as nuclear fuel,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, a public-interest organization based in Columbia, South Carolina.

A National Nuclear Security Administration spokeswoman said the notice pertained to only 6 of 13.1 tons of surplus plutonium addressed in a recent environment impact statement, and did not signal a change in DOE’s plans for disposal of the 34 tons of plutonium.

In the notice, DOE said moving the waste to New Mexico was part of the U.S. policy of ensuring “that surplus plutonium is never used in a nuclear weapon, and to remove surplus plutonium from the state of South Carolina.”

DOE says it is continuing work on MOX, but officials say several analyses have shown that diluting the plutonium covered under the treaty with Russia, and disposing of it in New Mexico would cost less than half of the MOX approach.

Russia has its own program to eliminate its reciprocal 34 tons of plutonium under the treaty.

A fiscal 2016 spending bill enacted this month includes $340 million for continued construction of the MOX project, and bans use of the funds for dilution of any plutonium that could be used for MOX.

  • Quek

    We create our own problems in nuclear power. This makes no sense. What a waste of fuel.

    • https://twitter.com/atomikrabbit atomikrabbit

      “This makes no sense. What a waste of fuel.”

      Exactly. Six tons of Pu, fissioned in an appropriately designed reactor, could generate thousands of megawatt-hours of emission-free electricity.

      Not mentioned in the article, but electricity generation in a Gen4 fast reactor is how the Russians are going to dispose of their 34 tons under the 2000 agreement (not a “treaty”): rt(dot)com/news/325593-fast-neutron-nuclear-reactor

  • Tom Clements

    The U.S. Congress has placed the grossly
    mismanaged plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the US DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina on a shut-down track by
    funding it far below the level to make it viable. Now, Congress must
    muster a bit of courage and push aside Senator Lindsey Graham, the main
    MOX booster and chief supporter of the contractor that has badly bungled the project (CB&I AREVA MOX Services), and formally terminate what is one of the largest U.S.
    Government’s boondoggles in history. As we have advocated for 20 years,
    immobilize the plutonium in existing high-level nuclear waste at the
    Savannah River Site. Time to ditch MOX and get on with treating
    plutonium as nuclear waste. — Tom Clements, Savannah River Site Watch,
    Columbia, South Carolina (see on on the web & FB)

  • Tom Clements

    The U.S. Congress has placed the grossly
    mismanaged plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the US DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina on a shut-down track by
    funding it far below the level to make it viable. Now, Congress must
    muster a bit of courage and push aside Senator Lindsey Graham, the main
    MOX booster and chief supporter of the contractor that has badly bungled the project (CB&I AREVA MOX Services), and formally terminate what is one of the largest U.S.
    Government’s boondoggles in history. As we have advocated for 20 years,
    immobilize the plutonium in existing high-level nuclear waste at the
    Savannah River Site. Time to ditch MOX and get on with treating
    plutonium as nuclear waste. — Tom Clements, Savannah River Site Watch,
    Columbia, South Carolina (see on on the web & FB)

  • Glenn Carroll

    Unfortunately atomikrabbit, all of the plutonium currently stored at Savannah River Site is random junk, some powder, some filings, it will require extensive purification to be a productive feed material. Um, but then there’s these pesky details, the 60% finished MOX factory wouldn’t have any customers for the plutonium fuel. No one will take the stuff. So the project is a total deadend that U.S. taxpayers are pouring billion$ into. Oh, and the Russian MOX factory does not exist.