Nuclear waste into fuel – the botched plan of MOX

A Botched Plan to Turn Nuclear Warheads Into Fuel Bloomberg, By    April 24, 2014 As the Soviet Union was unraveling and the Cold War was winding down in the early 1990s, negotiators in Washington and Moscow began talking about how best to dispose of the plutonium inside thousands of nuclear warheads the two nations had agreed to dismantle. The cheapest and easiest method was to immobilize the radioactive material by encasing it in molten glass and burying it. But the Russians balked at that, likening it to flushing gold down the toilet. Ultimately, it was decided that the plutonium would be converted into fuel for nuclear power plants. In September 2000, the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement under which each side would turn 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX, that could be combined with uranium for use in commercial reactors.

In the U.S., that huge task would take place at an aging plutonium factory in South Carolina called the Savannah River Site. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the 310-square-mile facility had churned out about 36 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear warheads. Now, the plant would turn those same warheads into fuel rods. The Department of Energy initially estimated it would cost about $1 billion to convert the plant. Construction began in August 2007, with an expected completion date of 2016.

The U.S. government even had a ready customer for the rods. Charlotte-based Duke Energy (DUK), one of the largest nuclear power companies in the U.S., signed on as a buyer. From 2005 to 2008, the company ran tests of MOX fuel the Department of Energy got from France. The fuel worked fine. Everything was going according to plan.

Almost seven years after construction began, the MOX plant is now 60 percent built. But it’s looking increasingly likely that it won’t ever be completed….The MOX plant in South Carolina requires 85 miles of pipe, 23,000 instruments, and 3.6 million linear feet of power cables. The project is vastly over budget: The Department of Energy has sunk about $5 billion into it so far and estimates it will cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion to finish the plant, plus an additional $20 billion or so to turn the plutonium into fuel over 15 years. In its 2015 budget request released in March, the Department of Energy announced it will place the MOX project on “cold standby,” effectively mothballing the project for the foreseeable future. “It’s a major fiasco,” says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It’s a classic boondoggle.”

The MOX plant is the latest blunder for the Department of Energy, which has a reputation for mismanaging big, complicated projects, particularly those related to nuclear energy. Costs for a nuclear waste treatment plant in Washington State have nearly tripled to $13 billion. A uranium processing facility in Tennessee once estimated to cost around $1 billion is now tipping the scales at around $11 billion, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study. It’s also running about 20 years behind schedule. A Department of Energy spokesman declined to comment for this article…….http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-24/u-dot-s-dot-botches-plan-to-turn-nuclear-warheads-into-fuel

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: