Palo Verde plant can use MOX fuel without adaptation, though it has never done so. CANDU reactors (which do not operate in the United States) can also use MOX fuel as is.
But the first step is to fabricate the mixed oxide fuel. That will be the job of a facility the government is building at its Savannah River site in South Carolina. Construction on the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility began in 2006 and is about 60 percent complete – and will be completed if the government doesn’t pull the plug on it (this is on page 77).
Following a year-long review of the plutonium disposition program, the Budget provides funding to place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina into cold-standby. NNSA is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively.
Sounds like Yucca Mountain all over again, doesn’t it? The Department of Energy has a reputation for abandoning large projects, but even leaving that aside, there’s very little justification for stopping the project.
NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel makes the case in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz:
Construction of the MOX facility is 60 percent complete, employs 1,800 people directly and utilizes more than 4,000 American contractors and suppliers in 43 states. These contracts contribute millions of dollars in revenue to those states, as the enclosure shows in state-level detail. This project has achieved nearly 18 million safe work hours – an unprecedented achievement for any construction project of this kind. The MOX project has also supported the development of advanced U.S. technology for both national security and commercial purposes.
If this were a horrible project with a destructive agenda, it wouldn’t matter at all how many people are engaged in it. Shut it down by all means. The MOX facility does not qualify as a horrible project. Not only will it produce commercial fuel, it will also quell proliferation concerns regarding the plutonium.
NEI views the MOX project as an investment in the nation’s future. The facility, once operational, will operate for more than a decade to complete its original mission to transform 34 metric tons of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium into civilian nuclear fuel. During that time, additional missions for the facility will likely be found and may include the transformation of additional U.S. weapons-grade plutonium, a worthy nonproliferation and disarmament goal.
The MOX facility is not a boondoggle. It can be finished and will serve an unalloyed good. Now, killing a project in the President’s budget request does not mean it’s dead – Congress will weigh in during the appropriations process and could reject the idea wholly or in part. But one shouldn’t count on that, as NEI wisely hasn’t. It’s an important issue and worthy of a fuss – a good topic to write about to your Congressman, in fact, who probably isn’t flooded with comments about it.