Duke Energy Abandons Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Testing Program in South Carolina Reactor

Friends of the Earth has learned that Duke Energy has taken a decisive step which signals its complete withdrawal from the Department of Energy's controversial program to test the potential use of surplus military plutonium as fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. In a stunning and silent move, Duke Energy has decided not to reload experimental plutonium fuel (mixed oxide fuel, MOX) test assemblies into its Catawba Unit 1 reactor during the current fuel outage which began on November 6. This move is a major setback to the Department of Energy's goal of using MOX fuel in commercial reactors. Such an outage is a normal procedure, as the radioactive uranium fuel must be withdrawn from the reactor core every 18 months. "Duke's total abandonment of the plutonium fuel program should be a wake-up call to the Energy Department. Plans to force the use of this costly and dangerous fuel in U.S. reactors must be immediately halted," said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth. "That it took Duke a full ten years to pull out of the MOX program is a good indicator of more trouble ahead with respect to costs, schedule and safety. It's not too late to pull the plug on the entire misguided program, halt construction of an expensive MOX plant under construction at the Savannah River Site and pursue a cheaper, safer and faster alternative: management of plutonium as nuclear waste."’

Update on MOX fuel in Japan, UK, and US

‘Japan took another step to insure its energy independence this month when it began loading MOX (Mixed Oxide Fuel) at the Genkai #3 nuclear reactor owned and operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. It is the first time MOX fuel has been loaded into a commercial nuclear reactor in Japan. About one-third of the 193 fuel assemblies were swapped out during a scheduled refueling outage and 16 of the new ones contain MOX fuel. The utility plans to triple the number of MOX fuel assemblies to 48. All of the MOX fuel is being produced under contract with Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The MOX fuel was fabricated at Areva's Melox plant in June 2009. Environmental groups protested the shipment of the fuel from France to Japan earlier this year despite the use of a vessel designed to carry this type of cargo. It arrived safely in Japan in May 2009. According to World Nuclear News, MOX fuel is produced by recovering plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Use of the plutonium in new fuel increases the energy it generates by 12%. if new, un-irradiated uranium, is used, the energy increase over conventional fuel is increased to 22% compared to conventional LWR reactor fuel. The process of recycling spent nuclear fuel decreases the volume of other fission byproducts by over 60%.’

Iranian enrichment has not grown, diplomats say

Iran has effectively stopped expanding active uranium enrichment since September, diplomats said, while considering a big power offer to fuel a medical reactor if it turns over enriched material seen as an atomic bomb risk. While Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) has likely risen by 200-300 kg from 1,500 kg reported by U.N. monitors in August, the number of operating centrifuge machines at its Natanz enrichment plant has remained at about 4,600, they said. Iran's potential enrichment capacity was much higher. It had installed at least 8,700 centrifuges in all by late September, diplomats said. A fresh figure was not yet available. But it was unclear why almost half the centrifuges were not yet enriching, remaining idle or undergoing vacuum tests. Diplomats and analysts said possible reasons ranged from technical glitches to politically motivated restraint, to avoid closing the door to diplomacy with world powers and provoking harsher international sanctions or even Israeli military action.’

Congress Should Follow Wall Street's Lead And Shun New Reactors

If Congress and the states do not follow the lead of Wall Street in declining to underwrite financially "risky and uneconomic" new nuclear reactors, the resulting taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and other subsidies could pave the way for the same kind of industry-wide meltdown that happened in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a major new study by Dr. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. Titled "All Risk, No Reward for Taxpayers and Ratepayers," the new study by Dr. Cooper looks at the reasons that Wall Street is shunning the financing of new reactors and concludes that Congress and state lawmakers would be well-advised to follow the same course to avoid leaving taxpayers and ratepayers holding the bag in the form of failed loan guarantees and needlessly higher utility bills.’

Russia to produce new nuclear reactors by 2014 - Medvedev

Russia will produce next-generation nuclear reactors and new types of nuclear fuel by 2014, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday. "The programs of developing nuclear power engineering have been separated as a special area in the modernization project, with next-generation nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel enjoying a demand within the country and abroad and will appear in Russia by 2014,"Medvedev said in his state-of-the-nation address to both houses of parliament. Medvedev said nuclear developments would also be actively applied in other spheres, first of all, in medicine, adding that Russia would also participate in an international project of thermonuclear synthesis as these technologies held promise for the future. Medvedev said Russia, as a member of the world's club of nuclear technology developers, would team up with foreign partners to open access to a virtually unlimited source of energy.’

Vattenfall Drops Plans To Invest In UK Nuclear Power

Swedish state-owned power utility Vattenfall AB has dropped plans to sell its domestic electricity distribution business and invest in U.K. nuclear power amid political opposition to its proposals, the Financial Times reported Thursday. Vattenfall said the sale of its domestic distribution business had been considered but was rejected by the board of directors, according to the FT. Vattenfall added that it had no current plans to take part in the construction of the new generation of nuclear power plants proposed by the U.K. government, the paper said.’

The threat of nuclear meltdown

At a nuclear power plant in Texas, two men dressed in combat gear are perched atop a steel-framed watchtower armed with assault rifles, firing on both moving and stationary targets some 300 yards away. This is only a drill, but the threat they're preparing for is very real. It's one of the worst disaster scenarios imaginable: Terrorists infiltrate a nuclear power plant and cause a meltdown. The government and the industry say that with all the security measures in place, the chance of that happening is practically zero. But critics say the plants are vulnerable to attack, and that the government is not taking the measures necessary to protect the public. And with more nuclear plants likely to be built, there is an urgent need to address safety. "The protection level at nuclear power reactors is not anywhere near that required," said Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist, Princeton professor, and former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology. "The utilities are unwilling to spend the money and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is basically under the thumb of the utilities, is not willing to make them."’