The giant French nuclear
firm Cogema, Duke Power and Virginia Power have formed a
consortium to create and use plutonium MOX fuel in civilian
atomic reactors in North and South Carolina and Virginia.
If their effort is
successful, plutonium would be trucked from nuclear weapons
depots in the west to the Savannah River Plant on the South
Carolina/Georgia border, where new plutonium processing plants
would be built. This new MOX fuel would then be trucked to
commercial reactors in the Southeast, in order to turn this
plutonium into high-level radioactive waste.
The MOX program is
dangerous and unnecessary. More than 200 environmental and other
organizations across the world have signed an International NIX
MOX statement and have pledged to work to stop this program in
the U.S. and similar programs in Russia, France and England.
What is MOX?
MOX stands for
"Mixed-Oxide Fuel." It is a nuclear power reactor fuel
made from plutonium mixed with uranium. The U.S. Department of
Energy (DOE) wants to make experimental MOX fuel using plutonium
from dismantled nuclear weapons.
There is no doubt that we
must contain the plutonium from nuclear warheads. It must neither
enter the environment--where it can poison drinking water and
virtually everything else with which it comes into contact--nor
be accessible to terrorists or others who might wish to build
But using plutonium as
reactor fuel accomplishes neither of those goals.
- MOX fuel requires
processing of plutonium before the fuel is fabricated,
creating new plutonium-laced waste, added worker
exposures, and releases to the environment.
- Transportation of the
plutonium, even when armed guards are deployed, is an
open invitation to terrorists or others seeking this
- Use of MOX in nuclear
reactors is not safe, and could result in serious
- Use of MOX would add
to our nation's immense radioactive waste burden, and
would make it more difficult to find
scientifically-defensible solutions to our atomic waste
MOX doesnt get rid of plutonium
Inside a nuclear reactor,
only some of the plutonium in MOX fuel gets
"fissioned," or converted into other radioactive
elements. These include such deadly elements as Strontium-90,
Cesium-137, Iodine-129 and many, many more.
While some plutonium is
split by fission, new plutonium is being made in the
reactor. This is because every commercial nuclear reactor
produces plutonium as a waste product of its operation; the
average commercial reactor produces some 500 pounds of plutonium
per year (it takes about 20 pounds to make a Nagasaki-size bomb).
Use of MOX fuel fails as a
means of getting rid of plutonium. Instead, the plutonium just
becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed
"high-level nuclear waste" which every reactor creates,
and for which there is no means of safe long-term storage.
Plutonium-239 itself is hazardous for 240,000 years.
MOX is dangerous
Use of MOX fuel attacks
commercial nuclear reactors where they are the weakest. Many
reactors are aging prematurely, and cracks are appearing in vital
reactor components. Most atomic reactors were not originally
designed to use MOX fuel and MOX makes key reactor components age
Because of its high
"neutron flux" levels, the reactor pressure vessel can
become embrittled and fail during accident conditions. A nuclear
accident involving MOX fuel could cause a meltdown more serious
than Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, because the levels of
radiation inside a reactor using MOX are even higher than in a
normal atomic reactor.
MOX is an economic bailout for a failed industry
There are valid
alternatives to the use of MOX fuel. Thus the Department of
Energy's program--and the nuclear utilities' willingness to
participate in this program--makes little sense until one
understands that the DOE intends to pay nuclear utilities
tax dollars to use MOX fuel.
Not only is this an
unconscionable use of your money, but it creates a subsidy to
allow uneconomical nuclear reactorswhich would have to
compete with other electricity sources under utility
deregulation--to operate. Nuclear reactors that arent
economical should close, not be propped up by an unnecessary,
dangerous federal program.
Alternatives to MOX
The major alternative to
MOX fuel is to immobilize warhead plutonium in a form so that no
one can get at it, and that is unlikely to leak into the
environment. Vitrification--merging the plutonium with glass,
then mixing it with existing high-level waste--is one promising
technology. This process still involves the handling of
plutonium, and would require the utmost vigilance to ensure that
the lethal material does not enter the environment.
But using MOX as a fuel
perpetuates the myth that plutonium is a commodity. Use of MOX
would set up a reprocessing infrastructure that would allow
continued use of plutonium as a fuel for centuries to come. Using
plutonium in commercial reactors would be the first step toward
the nuclear industrys goal of recovering more plutonium
from irradiated nuclear fuel by reprocessing. This option has
been rejected time and again by the U.S. government as
uneconomical, unsafe, and prone to nuclear weapons
proliferation concerns, and so should be rejected again. NIX MOX!
Nuclear Information and
1424 16th Street NW, #404,
Washington, DC 20036
202.328.0002; f: 202.462.2183;