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Nuclear waste experts reject Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program

Savannah-River-MOX-plant1Nuclear waste: DC has ignored a cheaper way to dispose of plutonium — until now, Douglas Birch & R. Jeffrey Smith The Center for Public Integrity, 7 July 13, “………Frank von Hippel, a White House science official in the early 1990’s who chaired a working group on Russia’s weapons plutonium, said he initially supported the MOX plant because the threat was high and MOX was the only solution Russia would support. But Russia’s decision since then to burn its new MOX fuel in reactors that can actually produce more plutonium was the last straw for von Hippel. As a result, he said, the MOX plant “[has] become from my point of view a pretty meaningless program” — one that’s cost billions of dollars so far.

Last May, von Hippel joined three other prominent scientists in a commentary published in Nature, entitled, “Time to Bury Plutonium,” in which they criticized Britain’s draft plans to dispose of its huge stockpile of surplus reactor plutonium by building a new MOX plant of its own. The four authors wrote that MOX programs worldwide have been plagued by extravagant expenses, technology breakdowns and design flaws.

In France, Areva’s recycling of plutonium from spent fuel for MOX adds about $750 million each year to the cost of electricity, according to a French study in 2000 cited by their article. Britain closed its Sellafield MOX plant in 2011, they pointed out, after it operated at just 1 percent of capacity for a decade.
The authors urged the country to “give plutonium immobilization another look … Although the technique has not been demonstrated at full scale, there is substantial literature on how to do it. Immobilization should be easier and cheaper than MOX production.” Von Hippel separately said that according to his calculations, it could be as much as seven times cheaper.

A few months after the article appeared, two of the authors were named by President Obama to key posts: Rodney Ewing, a University of Michigan nuclear waste expert was named chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in September, and Allison Macfarlane, an MIT-trained geologist was appointed to chair the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in July. The MOX plant is being built to NRC quality standards, and the agency must license the MOX plant before it can begin operations.

The immobilization alternative is not worry-free. One longstanding concern is that over hundreds of thousands of years, the glass, ceramic or metal could degrade and the plutonium settle into a pile large enough to create a “critical” mass of the explosive material and spark spontaneous nuclear blasts. That’s the sort of scenario that gives public officials pause.

Ewing, explaining that he was speaking for himself and not for the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, told the Center for Public Integrity that he couldn’t say how much immobilization would cost. But he said that recent research leaves no doubt that plutonium can be locked into a crystalline ceramic material and stored safely for tens of thousands of years……….

July 8, 2013 - Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, technology

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