On 20 September, 140kg of plutonium began its journey from the USA to France as part of the US Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) ‘MOX for peace’ programme.
An agreement made in 2000 between the governments of Russia and the USA obliged both parties to reduce their stock of plutonium by 34t. The DoE then decided in 2002 to clear its entire stock of surplus plutonium by converting it to mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use in power reactors operated by Duke Power.
Before the programme can be validated in the USA, four MOX fuel assemblies must be tested. But because no facilities suitable for MOX fabrication will exist in the USA until after the commissioning of the Savannah River plant, scheduled for 2008, the DoE took the decision to have the first fuel pellets and rods fabricated by Cogema at its plant in Cadarache, France.
The rods will be assembled at the Melox plant and delivered to the USA in early 2005 for loading at Duke’s Catawba plant in South Carolina in the spring.
The shipment convoy, which employs safety measures described by Areva as ‘exceptionally stringent’ consists of two nuclear transport vessels, the Pacific Pintail and the Pacific Teal, belonging to British firm Pacific Nuclear Transport. Each reinforced, double-hulled ship is equipped with naval cannons and a dual propulsion and rudder system. They are manned by a squad of armed police and escorted by inflatables and helicopters.
The material is expected to travel 960km across France by land with a military escort, the details of which are being kept secret.