DUKE POWERS PLAN TO USE BOMB-PLUTONIUM FUEL
CONCEALS HIDDEN DANGERS AND COSTS
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
A resolution opposing the MOX fuel program was tabled at Dukes
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.
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.
fuel may not receive regulatory approval.
Federal law requires that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) amend the licenses of the Duke reactors to allow MOX use.
However, there is no guarantee that such licenses can be granted without
severe restrictions on reactor operation.
There are significant additional risks to the public associated with
use of MOX fuel that will require detailed regulatory scrutiny and may even
exceed recently established NRC risk guidelines. For instance, because MOX fuel is inferior
to uranium fuel at high burn-up levels (i.e., irradiating or burning
the fuel in a reactor for extended periods), NRC may impose limits on MOX burn-up,
and thereby require Duke to consume MOX fuel inefficiently compared with the
conventional uranium fuel Dukes reactors now use.
Also, the use of MOX fuel, which can accelerate aging of some plant components,
may interfere with Dukes proposal to extend the licenses of the Catawba
and McGuire nuclear power plants for another twenty years of operation.
fuel may end up costing Duke money, rather than generating fuel-cost savings. MOX is several times more expensive
than conventional uranium fuel. The
cost savings claimed by Duke, if realized, would in fact be hundreds
of millions of dollars in government subsidies built into the MOX contract,
paid for by federal taxes. But even these savings are
only estimates, based upon a complex reimbursement formula.
DOE is requiring Duke to negotiate a cap or ceiling on the
total amount which Duke can be reimbursed for cost overruns.
Given that MOX fuel has never been used on a commercial scale in the
United States, and that DOEs projects historically end up costing several
times more than originally estimated, Dukes cost overruns may exceed the
amount DOE is willing to pay. In addition, the already low costs of
uranium fuel may drop even further, making MOX fuel a money loser for Duke. Duke refuses to tell its shareholders
how much money it believes it will save, or what additional costs it might incur,
claiming that such information is sensitive and confidential. In fact, Duke cannot guarantee any savings
fuel poses risks to efficient, economic operation of Duke nuclear plants. DOE will not permit construction of a
plant for manufacturing MOX fuel, now planned for the Savannah River Site (SRS)
in South Carolina, to proceed until an agreement governing the disposal of warhead
plutonium is concluded between the United States and Russia.
To date no agreement has been reached, and negotiations are years behind
schedule. Even if an agreement is reached, Congress
and DOE have repeatedly stated that the U.S. MOX program will not be allowed
to proceed unless Russia actually disposes of its plutonium as well.
But Russia has no money to do so.
Such an unreliable plutonium-fuel plan could jeopardize Dukes future
competitiveness in a deregulated electricity market because of costly disruptions
in refueling schedules due to sudden, unpredictable changes in Russian policies.
Duke Power should not link the future of its nuclear-power program to the fate
of an unstable Russian government and economy.
fuel requires heavy security. DOE insists that weapons-plutonium
MOX fuel must receive the same degree of security as that required for nuclear
weapons. This will necessitate greater security expenses at Dukes
reactors, including more armed guards who are trained and authorized to use
deadly force. These measures could
spark controversy for Duke in communities near the reactors.
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. Lymans 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. Lymans 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.
fuel exposes Duke to potentially enormous future costs.
The factories in which plutonium MOX fuel is fabricated are susceptible
to problems caused by hold up of significant amounts of plutonium
which get caught in process equipment rather than end up in the final fuel product. The Plutonium Fuel Production Facility (PFPF), a MOX factory
in Japan, accumulated a hold-up of more than 70 kilograms of plutonium
during its first several years of operation. International nuclear regulators required Japan to clean out
the plant and upgrade its equipment at a total estimated cost of over $100 million.
When queried by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) at a February meeting
with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff, Duke technical representatives
claimed they had never heard of this problem. The PFPF plant was based upon technology from Cogema, the
same French company that is designing the MOX plant which will fabricate fuel
for Dukes reactors. Duke
could therefore confront similar problems and expenses at the DCS consortiums
MOX fuel-fabrication factory.
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, Dukes
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 Dukes reactors.
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..
fuel violates U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
Using plutonium MOX fuel in U.S. reactors would contradict a 25-year
U.S. nuclear non-proliferation initiative, begun in the Ford and Carter administrations,
to oppose plutonium fuel cycles at home and abroad.
The Duke MOX program would encourage Europe and Japan to accelerate programs
to recover hundreds of tons of bomb-usable plutonium from the spent fuel of
their nuclear reactors, creating a grave proliferation and terrorism risk.
Dukes MOX program also would serve as an example to nations in
volatile regions (including Taiwan, South Korea, and Iran) to pursue plutonium
fuel cycles, risking regional instability by establishing a pathway to nuclear
fuel is not needed to dispose of plutonium from dismantled warheads. DOE is actually pursuing a dual-track
approach to warhead plutonium disposition, and plans to dispose of some 17 tons
of plutonium directly as waste by immobilizing it in steel cylinders filled
with glassified, highly radioactive waste, instead of turning it into MOX fuel. Technical studies by the National Academy
of Sciences and DOE conclude that this immobilization technology is feasible,
and could be utilized to dispose of all surplus warhead plutonium in
the United States and Russia. There
is no arms-control justification for the riskier MOX approach, but it is supported
by the nuclear industry as a way to subsidize nuclear utilities at taxpayer
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.
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
Powers MOX-fuel program, contact Steven Dolley, Nuclear Control Institute (1000
Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 804, Washington, DC, 20036; phone 202-822-8444; firstname.lastname@example.org),
or visit the NCI website at http://www.nci.org/nci-wpu.htm
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