A group of more than a dozen prominent former arms negotiators and senior diplomats has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging an end to the U.S. nuclear fuel program at the government’s Savannah River complex that they say is too costly and a threat to non-proliferation efforts.
...The signatories included former nuclear arms negotiators Robert Einhorn and Robert Gallucci; former ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Joseph Nye; former White House director for arms control, former Pentagon and intelligence official Henry S. Rowen; former head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Jessica Matthews; former Nuclear Regulation Commission members Peter Bradford and Victor Gilinsky; National Medal of Science winner and a designer of the first hydrogen bomb Richard Garwin; and nuclear policy experts Henry Sokolski, Frank von Hippel, S. David Freeman and Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione.
The MOX fuel fabrication facility [FFF] at the U.S. Department of Energy's [DOE] Savannah River Site [SRS] was supposed to convent 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel for commercial atomic reactors. MOX is short for Mixed Oxide, referring to mixed uranium-plutonium oxide nuclear fuel.
The MOX FFF has proceeded despite the protests of anti-nuclear and non-proliferation critics for the past two decades, who urged that the excess weapons-grade plutonium be mixed back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and treated as dangerous, deadly radioactive waste, not a commercial nuclear power commodity.
The MOX FFF project has turned into a $5 billion boondoggle. The still under construction MOX FFF was built too small to house the needed equipment, for one thing! But if the project continues, tens of billions of additional taxpayer dollars could be wasted, on an undertaking that undermines U.S. credibility on nuclear weapons non-proliferation, not to mention the risks of using plutonium fuel in reactors not designed for it in the first place.
For example, Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 had loaded MOX fuel into its reactor core in September 2010, just six months before the nuclear catastrophe began. 6% of the core consisted of MOX fuel; plans were to expand that to a 33% MOX core. Unit 3 then experienced the largest of the hydrogen gas explosions in March 2011, after its core began to melt down. The radioactive dust, so to speak, has not yet settled on what role the MOX fuel played in contributing to the full-scale melt down at Unit 3, the size of its destructive H2 explosion, and, most significantly of all, the severity of the hazardous radioactivity releases that resulted.
Critics have long resisted MOX. This has included grassroots anti-nuclear efforts, as in the Midwest. In the mid- to late-1990s, for example, a coalition of groups from Chicago to Ontario undertook a Nix MOX caravan, that generated significant media coverage.
This was followed by a lawsuit -- Alice Hirt v. Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy -- in federal court in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The pro bono environmental attorneys, Terry Lodge and Kary Love, on behalf of clients including Alice Hirt of Don't Waste Michigan in Holland, MI, sought to block DOE's shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, converted to experimental MOX reactor fuel, by truck from Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico, through Michigan, to Chalk River Nuclear Lab, Ontario. The environmental coalition initially won a Temporary Restraining Order against the shipment in late 1999, but by January 2000, DOE was able to force the shipment through.
Despite this, plans to use MOX fuel at Commonwealth Edison (later Exelon) reactors in IL, as well as at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in ON, fell apart. The MOX FFF at SRS, however, has kept the MOX scheme alive for 20 years, at huge cost to U.S. federal taxpayers, as well as at risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and environmental catastrophe.
Here are some additional examples of Nix MOX activism in the late 1990s:
- NIRS press release: Citizens Rally to Protect the Great Lakes-Urge Michigan’s Attorney General to Stop Plutonium Shipments, NIRS press release. November 10, 1999.
- NIRS questions on the “Parallex” Environmental Assessment for the proposed weapons-grade plutonium MOX shipment through Michigan for the meeting in Lansing with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, October 31, 1999.
- NIRS Comments on the DOE Office of Fissile Materials Disposition Environmental Assessment for the Parallex Project Fuel(MOX) Manufacture and Shipment (DOE/EA-1216, dated January 1999), Friday, October 29, 1999.
- DOE’s “Parallex” shipment of weapons-usable plutonium MOX nuclear fuel from Los Alamos, New Mexico to Chalk River, Ontario, Canada. NIRS Alert. October 29, 1999.