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Steven Dolley

Nuclear Control Institute

March 8, 2000




            In 1998, Duke-Cogema-Stone & Webster (DCS), a consortium that includes two Duke Energy affiliates (Duke Power and Duke Engineering and Services), signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to fabricate some 33 tons of plutonium recovered from dismantled nuclear warheads into so-called mixed oxide (“MOX”) fuel for use in four Duke nuclear power reactors (McGuire 1 & 2, Catawba 1 & 2) and two Virginia Power reactors (North Anna 1 & 2).  Plutonium is both a nuclear explosive and a radioactive poison, requiring extraordinary security and safety measures.


            A resolution opposing the MOX fuel program was tabled at Duke’s 1999 annual meeting by Mr. Robert Mills and other Duke shareholders.  The initiative received 7.7 percent of the vote, enough to qualify a similar initiative for consideration at the shareholders meeting this year.  Duke sought to deny a democratic voice to its shareholders by engaging in legal maneuvers to keep Mr. Mills’ new resolution off the 2000 proxy ballot.  These efforts were rejected by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which required Duke to include the anti-MOX resolution as “Shareholder Proposal 4: Use of Mixed Oxide Fuel in Nuclear Reactors” on the proxy for its 2000 annual meeting, scheduled for April 20 in Charlotte, NC.


The plutonium MOX fuel program is portrayed by Duke as a patriotic initiative to dispose of nuclear-bomb material which also would economically benefit the company.  Public-interest organizations nationwide strongly object to the use of weapons plutonium as fuel in civilian reactors because it poses a significant threat to public safety and the environment, and runs counter to 25 years of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy.  The proposed use of MOX fuel also presents Duke with hidden costs and financial risks.






        MOX fuel poses a grave safety threat.  Dr. Edwin Lyman, NCI Scientific Director, conducted a MOX fuel safety study using the same computer codes employed by DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Dr. Lyman’s study concluded that, in the event of a severe accident resulting in a large radioactive release, an average of 25% more people would die of cancer if the reactor were using a partial core of plutonium-MOX fuel, as opposed to a full core of conventional uranium fuel.  DOE itself has concurred with many of Dr. Lyman’s findings.  Dr. Lyman also found that the impact of MOX fuel on certain reactor characteristics may also increase the chance that such a severe accident would occur.  DOE and Duke dismiss such accidents as extremely improbable---but it must be remembered that the accidents that took place at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Tokai nuclear-fuel plant in Japan last September all had been similarly dismissed as highly unlikely or even “impossible” events.



Because plutonium MOX fuel has never been used commercially in the United States and is now generating concerns and controversy in nations where it is being produced and used, Duke’s MOX fuel program will be subject to greater scrutiny and possibly a heavier regulatory burden from NRC.  For example, recent revelations that British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) cut costs by making up fictional quality-control data for MOX fuel produced for Japanese, German and Swiss utility customers has resulted in those customers cancelling orders for MOX fuel.  This is likely to result in NRC imposing costly quality-control requirements on MOX fuel fabricated for Duke’s reactors.


        MOX fuel using warhead plutonium is experimental and untested.  Duke claims that “many years of experience” in European reactors shows MOX to be safe and effective.  But the plutonium in European MOX fuel was recovered from used nuclear-power plant fuel, not from nuclear bombs.  Warhead plutonium is of a different isotopic composition, responds differently in reactors, and has never been tested on a commercial scale.  DOE began test irradiation of a few MOX pellets in an experimental reactor in early 1998, and will not have any results for years.  Warhead-plutonium MOX fuel remains an unproven technology with significant risks associated with its use..






Duke Power is jeopardizing the future viability and economic competitiveness of its nuclear-power program in exchange for possible future savings amounting to only a small fraction of its nuclear-fuel costs.  This is an imprudent risk that Duke shareholders should not allow the company to undertake on their behalf.


Founded in 1981, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a nuclear non-proliferation research and advocacy center, opposes the use of weapons plutonium in civilian commerce.  For further information about the risks of Duke Power’s MOX-fuel program, contact Steven Dolley, Nuclear Control Institute (1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 804, Washington, DC, 20036; phone 202-822-8444;, or visit the NCI website at



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