Duke Energy executives are defending a plan to use mixed oxide fuel at the W B McGuire and Catawba plants in North Carolina. At a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearing, Michael Tuckman, senior vice president of nuclear operations for the company’s Duke Power subsidiary, endeavoured to reassure local residents and environmentalists that its plan to convert 33t of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel for its reactors would be carried out safely.
The US Department of Energy is seeking to dispose of 50t of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, blending two-thirds with uranium to form the mixed-oxide fuel, and immobilise the rest in ceramic.
A consortium comprising Duke Power, a US unit of French reprocessing firm Cogema, and contracting firm Stone & Webster, beat two other bidders to construct a plant to blend the fuel, which would then be loaded into the two Duke plants from 2007. In 2004, Duke says it will seek amendments for W B McGuire and Catawba, after testing MOX fuel assemblies in one or both of the plants during the prior year.