FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Tom Clements
DECEMBER 6, 2000 202-822-8444, firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES REPORT SOUNDS DEATH KNELL FOR USE OF PLUTONIUM FUEL (MOX) IN CANDU REACTORS
MOX TEST AT CHALK RIVER SHOULD BE TERMINATED, SAYS NCI
Washington, D.C.---A report quietly released by the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on November 16 states that disposal of weapons plutonium as fuel in CANDU reactors fails to meet security guidelines established for the weapons plutonium disposition program. According to the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a Washington-based non-proliferation research and advocacy institution, this failure effectively knocks CANDU reactors out of further consideration for using mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel (MOX) made from surplus U.S. and Russian weapons plutonium.
The NAS Committee on International Security and Arms Control, in a 50-page report entitled The Spent-Fuel Standard for Disposition of Excess Weapon Plutonium, determined that spent MOX fuel removed from a CANDU reactor would fail to meet the so-called spent fuel standard. This standard was initially presented in 1994 by the NAS and, according to the NAS report, held that plutonium in its final dispositioned forms should be roughly as difficult to acquire, process and utilize in nuclear weapons as is the plutonium in typical spent fuel from civilian power reactors. Spent nuclear fuel offers a radiation barrier and handling problems which would make removal of the plutonium difficult. The standard has since been adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy and Russia for weapons plutonium disposition.
Now that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has made a determination that plutonium fuel removed from a CANDU reactor does not meet the security guideline established for the weapons plutonium disposition program, the CANDU option is decidedly dead, said Tom Clements, Executive Director the Nuclear Control Institute. The research program to irradiate U.S. and Russian MOX in the NRU reactor at Chalk River should be immediately terminated as there is no need whatsoever for that test to go forward. The testing of small amounts of MOX imported from Russian and the U.S. in controversial shipments is expected to begin in December or January in Atomic Energy of Canadas Parallex Project.
The NAS committee states that the CANDU-MOX option is not compliant with the spent fuel standard, having made that determination after presenting a series of comparisons between spent LWR fuel and LWR-MOX, CANDU-MOX, CANFLEX-MOX and the so-called can-in-canister approach whereby plutonium is formed into ceramic discs, placed in cans and the cans then surrounded by glassified high-level waste.
CANFLEX is a new type of fuel undergoing testing but is not ready for commercial use. CANFLEX-MOX fuel bundles would be modified to weigh more and have a greater radiation barrier than conventional CANDU-MOX bundles. In spite of improvement over the CANDU-MOX option, the NAS judged that compliance of the CANDU CANFLEX-MOX option with the spent fuel standard to be marginal.
The study found that spent CANDU-MOX was comparable to spent LWR fuel in several barriers to acquisition of the plutonium contained in the fuel, but that CANDU-MOX was worse in a number of categories, due to the low bulk of the fuel and lower radiation barrier
In January 2000, the U.S. Department of Energy issued its Record of Decision on use of MOX from weapons plutonium. In that document, DOE stated that it was no longer actively pursuing the option of using U.S. MOX in CANDU reactors as the U.S. had chosen light-water reactors in the U.S. for the mission. DOE further stated that Canada and Russia could pursue disposal of Russian MOX in CANDU reactors and such agreement would take place directly between Canada and Russia. Irradiation in LWRs is not scheduled to take place until 2007 but that schedule is likely to shift due to financial and technical problems.
NCI supports development of the can-in-canister method of plutonium disposal as it is safer from a non-proliferation perspective and avoids introduction of nuclear weapons materials into the civilian fuel cycle. The NAS report determined that the can-in-canister option should be subjected to a mock on-site attack to determine its compliance with the spent fuel standard. NCI believes that efforts now being undertaken at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California will confirm that the casks can be designed in such a way as to make them highly theft-resistant. This method of disposal would take place at the DOEs Savannah River Site in South Carolina, site also chosen for the new MOX fabrication plant.
Notes to editors:
More information on weapons plutonium disposition can be found on the NCI web site at http://www.nci.org/nci-wpu.htm.The NAS report can be found on the NAS web site at: http://books.nap.edu/books/0309073030/html/R2.html#pagetop. Further information on the U.S. Department of Energys plutonium disposition program can be found on DOEs Office of Fissile Material Disposition (MD) web site at http://www.doe-md.com. PR contact for MD in Washington is Ken Sprankle at 202-586-7113. PR office at DOEs Savannah River Site can be reached at 803-725-2889
The four U.S. reactors chosen to irradiate MOX are owned by Duke Energy. The two Catwaba reactors are located in South Carolina and the two McGuire reactors are located in North Carolina, with both sites near to Charlotte, NC. Two reactors presented for MOX use by Dominion Virginia Power Company were withdrawn in April 2000, in what the company called a purely business decision.