Duke Power on Tuesday reaffirmed plans to use a plutonium blend
to fuel its two Charlotte-area nuclear plants.
But it won't seek permission to test the mixed-oxide or MOX fuel
for at least two more months.
Duke had planned to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in
March. But because the Department of Energy hasn't decided who will
make the test material, the application probably won't go in before
late June, said Steve Nesbit, Duke's MOX fuel program manager.
If it's approved, four fuel-rod assemblies would be installed at
Duke's Catawba or McGuire nuclear plants in 2004 and be tested for 4
1/2 years. Full-scale use would probably begin in 2008.
Three facilities in Europe -- the only place MOX is now made --
could make the test assemblies, Nesbit said. Energy spokesman Lisa
Cutler would say only that the department hasn't decided where they
will be produced.
Catawba and McGuire would become the first U.S. plants to burn
MOX fuel, which would contain a small percentage of weapons-grade
plutonium. MOX made from nonweapons plutonium is widely used in
A business consortium that includes a Duke Energy unit has
applied for permission to build a fuel plant at the Savannah River
Site near Aiken, S.C., to process 34 metric tons of plutonium.
Critics are trying to block the plant and have won a formal
S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges has vowed to block a shipment of Colorado
plutonium headed to Savannah River.
The NRC recently cited uncertainty in whether the MOX program
will go forward.
The Department of Energy on Friday formally killed a plan to
encase some surplus plutonium in highly radioactive glass. The
department said it is assessing any needed changes to its MOX
Duke still intends to use the fuel, Nesbit said.
"The important thing, from our point of view and the government's
point of view, is to get started," he said.