Steven Dolley

Nuclear Control Institute


UPDATED: October 18, 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. This past April, Virginia Power withdrew its reactors from the MOX program, a move it described as purely a business decision.


Duke portrays the plutonium MOX fuel program as a patriotic initiative to dispose of nuclear-bomb material that 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. 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 might 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, 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 canceling orders for MOX fuel. This is likely to result in NRC imposing costly quality-control requirements on MOX fuel fabricated for Dukes 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. Participation in the MOX program is an imprudent risk that Duke Power should not undertake.


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 Powers MOX-fuel program, contact Steven Dolley, Nuclear Control Institute (1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC, 20036; phone 202-822-8444; mail@nci.org), or visit the NCI website at http://www.nci.org/nci-wpu.htm



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