A consortium of US and European companies, led by Duke Engineering & Services, Cogema and Stone & Webster, has submitted a bid to the US Department of Energy to burn mixed-oxide fuel in the United States made with weapons plutonium. The DOE is expected to decide by year’s end.
The proposal, submitted in early September, calls for MOX fuel to be burned in two Duke Power nuclear plants, the Catawba and McGuire stations, with the consortium supplying the full scope of services required by the DOE. This would include design, construction and licensing of a MOX fuel fabrication facility, fabrication of the MOX fuel, and the irradiation of the fuel in commercial nuclear reactors.
Under a policy established in 1997, the US DOE plans to dispose of about 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium declared surplus at the end of the Cold War. Plans call for immobilising most of it in glass, while also converting some of it to MOX fuel and burning it in commercial reactors.
If the DOE approves, MOX fuel would be burned in selected US reactors for a 15-year period, beginning in 2007.
Other members of the US/European consortium include Belgonucleaire, Framatome Cogema Fuels, Nuclear Fuel Services, Virginia Power, and Electricité de France.
In a related development, the US DOE is negotiating a 2-1/2 year, $40 million deal with Raytheon Engineers and Constructor for the design of a facility to disassemble and convert nuclear weapons plutonium pits for disposal. The facility, which will be built either at DOE’s Savannah River reservation in South Carolina or at DOE’s Pantex plant in Texas, will disassemble excess nuclear weapons pits, remove the weapons-usable plutonium metal, and convert it into a form that can be sent either to a MOX fuel fabrication plant or an immobilisation facility. The process was demonstrated in September at the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
DOE hopes to award the contract by the end of 1998. Construction of the facility would begin in 2001 and be completed by mid-2004. It would operate for ten years, then be decommissioned.