TVA considers trying MOX fuel at reactors

The U.S. Department of Energy and Tennessee Valley Authority have  issued a draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the disposal of surplus plutonium and use of resulting mixed oxide fuel or (MOX) in certain TVA nuclear power plants.

TVA is a formal cooperating agency on the supplemental EIS, and is considering potential use of the plutonium-based fuel in its reactors at Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants in Hamilton County, Tenn., and Limestone County, Ala., respectively.

The supplemental EIS appeared in the Federal Register July 27, which began a 60-day public comment period that closes on Sept. 25. In addition, interested parties can address the issue during public meetings scheduled Sept. 11 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Tennessee and Sept. 13 at the Calhoun Community College, Decatur Campus in Tanner, Ala.

DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) prepared the supplemental EIS that considers several alternatives for the disposition of an additional 13.1 metric tons (MT) of weapons-grade plutonium declared surplus to national defense needs. 

In its earlier 1999 EIS, DOE decided to make 34 metric tons of the surplus material available as mixed oxide fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors. That decision supported U.S. policy, efforts and international agreements to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and render the associated nuclear materials, including plutonium, unusable for weapons purposes.

In 2010 TVA entered into an Interagency Agreement with DOE to investigate the potential for use of mixed oxide fuel in TVA reactors. 

“However, there is neither a TVA obligation nor a decision at this time to use mixed oxide fuel,” TVA said in documents posted on its website. “TVA will use mixed oxide fuel in its reactors only if it is determined to be operationally and environmentally safe, economically beneficial to TVA customers and licensed for use by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),” TVA said.

Once the MOX fuel assemblies have been irradiated in commercial power reactors, the plutonium can no longer be readily used for nuclear weapons, NNSA said on its website.

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About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.