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[cdn-nucl-l] US MOX burning program
Friday April 7 2000, 6:34 PM ET
Power Co. Pulls Out of Fuel Program
By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Virginia Power Co. has decided to pull out of a
government program to burn plutonium-derived fuel in two of its nuclear
power reactors, the utility said Friday.
The decision raises questions about whether the government will be able to
dispose of as much as two tons of plutonium a year by burning it as a mixed
oxide fuel in civilian power reactors as planned.
``We regret the decision by Virginia power to leave the consortium,'' the
Energy Department said in a statement. But the department said another
utility, Duke Power, ``remains committed to this important nonproliferation
A department source, who declined to be named, said there are various
options available including finding a new utility to replace Virginia Power
or increasing the number of Duke Power reactors in the program.
``The department continues to rely on the irradiation of MOX fuel to
eliminate surplus U.S. weapons plutonium,'' said the DOE statement. The plan
calls for disposing of 33 metric tons of plutonium as MOX fuel by 2020.
The government a year ago awarded a $130 million contract to a consortium
comprised of the French nuclear fuel manufacturer, Cogema, Virginia Power
and Duke Power, for the burning of the MOX fuel in the six reactors,
beginning in 2007.
Duke Power will use two reactors at its McGuire plant south of Charlotte,
N.C., and two reactors at its Catawba plant near Rock Hill, S.C. Virginia
Power had planned to use its two North Anna reactors near Mineral Va.
Jim Novelle, a spokesman for the utility, said the decision to no longer
participate in the government program was made as ``purely a business
decision'' in light of the corporations recent restructuring.
In January, Virginia Power's parent company, Dominion Resources, merged with
Consolidated Natural Gas of Pittsburgh. ``Our strategic focus as a company
was to grow our generation assets in the Midwest and Northeast sections of
the United States. And this (MOX) project does not fit into our business
plan,'' said Novelle.
Nuclear nonproliferation watchdog groups, that oppose the burning of
plutonium-based fuel in civilian reactors, said Virginia Power's decision
may jeopardize the Energy Department's plans to dispose of all the plutonium
it plans. That, in turn, could cause problems with an agreement with Russia
on plutonium disposal, they said.
``I would think this would make it difficult to safely implement the plan,''
said Tom Clements of the Nuclear Control Institute, a nonproliferation
advocacy group that had criticized the use of plutonium-based fuel in
A $1.3 billion processing plant and other facilities, to be run by Cogema,
for converting plutonium to MOX fuel has yet to be built, but is planned for
the Savannah River weapons complex in South Carolina.
The plutonium to be converted to MOX is among the plutonium left over from
the weapons program. About nine tons of less pure plutonium, not suitable
for conversion, is to be encased in glass logs and buried.
The Nuclear Control Institute has maintained the use of MOX fuel in civilian
reactors increases the safety risk and improperly links the military and
civilian nuclear programs.