FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Tom Clements
Wednesday, March 29, 2000 tel. 202-822-8444, firstname.lastname@example.org
DUKE ENERGY SHAREHOLDERS CHALLENGE PLAN
Washington---A shareholders' proposal now arriving in the hands of Duke Energy's investors challenges the financial, safety and security risks of the company's plan to use plutonium from nuclear warheads as fuel in four of Duke's nuclear reactors.
The results of the vote on the proposal will be announced at Duke's annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 20. A number of Duke shareholders will speak from the floor in support of the proposal, which calls on the company "to establish a firm policy against" the plutonium fuel plan. Last year, a similar proposal won support from 7.6% of Duke's shareholders, qualifying it for re-consideration at the upcoming meeting. An attempt by Duke to keep the proposal off the ballot this year was rejected by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Duke is currently under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy in a controversial program to use mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel as part of a program to dispose of 33 tonnes of plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads and declared surplus to military needs. Such fuel, made from weapon-grade plutonium, has never been used before in nuclear reactors. DOE has also begun a program to immobilize a portion of the surplus plutonium with nuclear waste.
The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a non-proliferation research and advocacy center located in Washington, has raised non-proliferation, safety and economic concerns since the inception of the program. Use of MOX fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium is an experimental program that poses increased risks to the operation of Dukes nuclear reactors and to the safety of its customers, and thus should be opposed, said Tom Clements, Executive Director of NCI. Dukes use of MOX is dangerous from a non-proliferation perspective since it will send the message that it is acceptable to use plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, in nuclear reactors worldwide. Rather than subject the public to the dangers and uncertainties of MOX fuel, DOE should designate plutonium as waste and immobilize it existing high-level nuclear waste.
Duke has joined with COGEMA, the state-owned French plutonium company, and Stone & Webster, an architect-engineering firm, in a consortium called DCS. Virginia Power Company is also a member of the DCS consortium and has offered two reactors to use MOX fuel. On March 22, 1999, DCS was awarded a $130 million contract from DOE for the MOX fabrication and irradiation mission. DOE has projected that the plutonium disposition program in the U.S. could cost as much a $4 billion, with estimates ever-increasing. According to DOE, the cost of a parallel disposition program in Russia could run from $1.5 - $2 billion, with Russia demanding that the U.S. and Western partners pick up the tab.
The shareholders proposal also questions the wisdom of Duke placing operation of its reactors on a timetable dependent not only on DOE but also on the implementation of a similar program in Russia, a program which could be delayed due to a variety of economic and political problems in that country. The proposal points out that uranium fuel is cheap and abundant and presents fewer safety hazards than MOX fuel.
A fact sheet prepared by NCI and sent to major shareholders underscores the economic uncertainties associated with fuel fabrication costs and states that the program may not produce any fuel-cost savings for Duke, as claimed by the company. The fact sheet goes on to say that Duke refuses to tell its shareholders how much money it believes it will save, or what additional costs it might incur, saying that such information is sensitive and confidential. Duke has also refused to say how rate payers would benefit from the program, an issue which will be of interest to state regulatory authorities.
A report by NCI Scientific Director Dr. Ed Lyman, soon to be published in the Princeton University peer-reviewed journal Science and Global Security, estimates that in an accident involving a reactor using a 40% MOX core (instead of a conventional low-enriched uranium core) there would be 25% more fatal cancer deaths in a severe accident resulting in radiation release.
In response to the report, DOE itself has revised upward its own cancer estimates in case of a severe MOX accident. Despite presenting a clear threat to the public living around Duke reactors, the company has pushed ahead with the MOX program.
On January 4, 2000, DOE concluded its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process on plutonium disposition by issuing a Record of Decision (ROD) affirming use of four Duke reactors in the MOX program two reactors at the Catawba plant, located near Rock Hill, South Carolina and two reactors at the McGuire plant located north of Charlotte. Two reactors at Virginia Powers North Anna plant north of Richmond were also named in the ROD. All six reactors must have their operating licenses amended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to use MOX. Savannah River Site was designated in the ROD as the site for both MOX fabrication and plutonium immobilization.
Internationally, MOX fuel fabricated from reactor-grade plutonium has been used only on a limited basis in Europe, and technical performance data on its use has been withheld from public scrutiny. Recently, Germany and Japan rejected use of MOX fuel made by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) due to quality control problems with fuel fabrication. A German utility went so far as to shut down its reactor fueled with MOX from BNFL and removed the questionable fuel. The BNFL scandal, which has sent a shockwave through the plutonium industry and also raised concerns about COGEMAs MOX fabrication as well, underscores the inherent technical problems Duke will face in the manufacture and use of MOX fuel.
The Duke shareholders' proposal and an NCI fact sheet on the risks of Duke's MOX program, as well as an NCI letter sent to major institutional shareholders are available on the NCI web site. More information on DOE's plutonium program is available on NCI's web site at