Control Institute (Washington DC) Condemms "Wasteful and Reckless" Plutonium
Contract Award for Mixed-Oxide Fuel Use in U.S.
Nuclear Reactors Will Waste Millions, Increase Health and Security Risks
WASHINGTON, DC — Warning that the unprecedented use of warhead plutonium
fuel in U.S. nuclear reactors may ultimately require hundreds of millions
of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to nuclear utilities and greatly increase
the cancer risk to the public from a severe accident, the Nuclear Control
Institute (NCI) today condemned the award of a $130 million Department
of Energy (DOE) contract for mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication and
irradiation services to an international consortium. The consortium,
which includes the utilities Duke Power and Virginia Power, and the
fuel fabricators Cogema and Belgonucléaire (based in France and
Belgium respectively), proposes to build a MOX fuel fabrication plant,
most likely at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and to irradiate
the fuel in the Catawba reactors in South Carolina, the McGuire reactors
in North Carolina and the North Anna reactors in Virginia.
Duke Power is seriously underplaying the safety
risks associated with using plutonium fuel in its nuclear plants. According
to a study released by NCI in January, the use of a one-third core of
warhead plutonium fuel in U.S. nuclear reactors could result in a 37%
increase in cancer risk to the public the event of a severe accident.
Plutonium fuel has also been observed to be more vulnerable to rupture
than uranium fuel under certain accident conditions.
"A nuclear reactor using MOX fuel contains greater
quantities of plutonium and other hazardous actinides than one using
only uranium fuel," said NCI Scientific Director Dr. Edwin Lyman. "In
the event of a containment failure or bypass accident, releases of these
additional actinides could cause hundreds to thousands of additional
cancer deaths among the public in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
and the Washington, D.C. area.
"While Duke Power claims that the use of MOX in
France is safe, it does not plan to employ even the minimal safety adaptations
used in France. It does not intend to install additional control rods
in its reactors, or to place limits on the irradiation time of the plutonium
fuel compared to uranium fuel, both of which are done in France. Duke
is cutting corners here in a way which could seriously impact safety,"
said Dr. Lyman.
"It is especially ironic that this contract is being
awarded only days before the twentieth anniversary of the Three Mile
Island (TMI) accident," said Dr. Lyman. "Instead of redoubling efforts
to improve the safety of their plants and reduce the risk of another
TMI, Duke Power and Virginia Power are taking on new challenges that
will reduce safety margins and increase risk.
"While U.S. taxpayers will bear the brunt of this
program, they won't even be informed of the total bill, because Duke
Power is keeping the amount of its proposed subsidies confidential."
said NCI Executive Director Tom Clements. "But it won't be a bargain.
Since this consortium was the sole bidder for the contract, it no doubt
extracted very favorable terms from DOE for its member companies at
the expense of the taxpayer.
" Mr. Clements also expressed concern about the
proliferation risks of the MOX program. "This contract will also send
a signal to other nations, such as France and Japan, that the use of
plutonium in commercial reactors is acceptable, which will encourage
them to continue to reprocess their spent fuel and extract even more
plutonium. This can only increase risks to international security, in
spite of what DOE claims," Mr. Clements said.
"DOE should be concentrating on the other alternative
it is pursuing for warhead plutonium disposition, which is cheaper,
faster and safer — immobilization with already existing nuclear wastes
for direct disposal," said Mr. Clements.
Additional information on DOE's plutonium disposition
program can be found on NCI's World Wide Web site: http://www.nci.org/nci-wpu.htm
Dr. Edwin Lyman, 202-822-8444