Netherlands-based AMG Critical Materials has established a new company, NewMOX SAS in Grenoble, France, to service the nuclear fuel market. NewMOX is a subsidiary of ALD Vacuum Technologies based in Hanau, Germany. ALD is AMG’s engineering subsidiary focused on vacuum furnace technology, which includes sintering furnace systems enabling the production of commercial nuclear fuel from plutonium and depleted uranium mixed oxides (mox). ALD’s MOX technology has been applied in Germany, the USA, France, Belgium, the UK and recently ALD has been delivering furnace systems to China. ALD inherited the mox technology from Degussa AG, ALD’s former owner (later renamed Evonik AG).

Presently, the total global storage of civil-use plutonium resulting from the reprocessing of used fuel from commercial nuclear power operations stands at 380 tonnes, and this figure continues to grow with ongoing nuclear power generation. AMG noted that the storage of plutonium is extremely costly due to the associated risks. The conversion of plutonium into mox not only eliminates these risks but can be a commercially attractive alternative to storage. As an indicator, the conversion of 380 tonnes of plutonium into MOX translates at present fuel prices into a commercial value of $15-20bn.

Serge Bertrand, head of ALD France, where ALD has centred its nuclear technology activities, has been appointed CEO of NewMOX. Dr Johannes Fachinger, head of nuclear ALD Hanau, will be Chief Technology Officer. “Both were recently in charge of implementing the mox furnace technology in a Chinese factory,” said ALD CEO Michael Hohmann.

“The NewMOX business model is simple,” said AMG CEO Dr Heinz Schimmelbusch. “There is a lot of plutonium stored and the operators of these storage facilities are seeking ways to reduce storage costs; there is the proven ALD MOX sinter furnace technology; and there is a large mox market which will grow with the development of the emerging SMR (small modular reactor) wave.”

He added: “It is the objective of NewMOX to form partnerships for the construction and operation of a commercial plutonium recycling facility producing mox fuel starting with conceptual engineering and feasibility studies. This will take time, but this is a very valuable destination. And it qualifies under AMG’s “Double Materiality” standard which combines financial and environmental benefits.”

Plutonium (and uranium) recovered from used fuel through reprocessing. can then be used in the manufacture of mox fuel, which can replace fresh uranium oxide fuel. Recycling plutonium in the form of mox increases the energy produced from the original uranium by some 12%. If the uranium is also recycled this increases to about 22% (based on light water reactor fuel with a burn-up of 45 GWd/tU).

Mox is being increasingly used in Europe and in Japan. Some 40 reactors in Europe (Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and France) are licensed to use mox, and more than 30 are now operating on mox fuel. In Japan, ten reactors are licensed to use mox – mostly comprising about a third of their core with some using up to 50% mox assemblies. Mox is also used in Russia’s BN-600 and BN-800 fast neutron reactors at its Beloyarsk NPP.

With approximately 3,600 employees, AMG operates globally with production facilities in Germany, the UK, France, the US, China, Mexico, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique, and has sales and customer service offices in Japan.