The mixed oxide fuel rods used in the compromised number three reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi complex contain enough plutonium to threaten public health with the possibility of inhalation of airborne plutonium particles. The compromised fuel rods supplied to the Tokyo Electric Company by the French firm AREVA.
Many of the ongoing troubles surrounding Japan’s stricken Fukushima reactors have been caused by problems with spent fuel storage.
Masashi Goto, a reactor researcher and designer for Toshiba, told the Foreign Correspondents Club in Toyko the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel used in unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility uses plutonium, which is “much more toxic than the fuel used in the other reactors.” Goto said that the MOX also has a lower melting point than the other reactor fuels. The Fukushima facility began using MOX fuel in September 2010, becoming the third plant in Japan to do so, according to MOX supplier AREVA.
Minister of Economy Trade and Industry Hachiro at a press conference after a cabinet meeting on May 6, for spent nuclear fuel remains in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. TEPCO reveals that there is consultation of the pickup from the French government, “and listening to the offer from the company, “he said.
At a press conference after a cabinet meeting is also the primary phase Hosono, “There was a high interaction with the French government for spent nuclear fuel,” he said while “the diplomatic, touch sensitive information” did not give a concrete content.
The United States, Japan, and Europe do not have permanent repositories for high-level nuclear waste. That is why so many used fuel elements were being stored at the Japanese reactor site.
The CIA has reported that Japan’s nuclear power program was not limited to the peaceful production of electrical power. The program had its roots in a secret weapons program that caused the CIA to conclude as far back as 1964 that Japan could assemble within months a nuclear weapon.
One of the unique characteristics of mixed oxide fuel is that relatively little of the plutonium in the fuel rods is used up in the fuel cycle in a reactor. “When the plutonium in the fuel rods goes into a reactor for commercial power, a very little of it is going to be consumed. I don’t know what percentage, maybe half percentage or something like that, but it’s going to generate an extraordinary amount of contamination throughout the fuel rods…,” says William Lawler, an expert on radioactive waste.
Part of the process of making MOX fuel is to grind plutonium into a fine power before it is robotically inserted into fuel rods. Experts agree these tiny plutonium particles once airborne are extremely dangerous to human health.
Lawless, who worked at the DOE’s Savannah River Site and first exposed massive contamination there in the early 1980s, says MOX being used as a way of controlling weapons proliferation is a myth: “You will decrease the amount of plutonium minutely but you will increase the amount of waste inside the fuel rod greatly into something that is very contaminated for a long period of time and they think is that it would be too deadly to handle for a terrorist…This is not necessarily following the best scientific plan or the best engineering decision; this is more a political decision, the MOX.”
AREVA and Spent Fuel in the United States
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Augusta back in June took public comment in an early effort to draft licensing rules for commercial reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah says reprocessing spent fuel could help ease the nation’s nuclear waste problem but won’t get rid of it.
[quote]The National Nuclear Security Administration, an autonomous agency inside the Department of Energy, is 85 percent of the DOE budget. It has partnered with an American firm, Shaw, and AREVA in France to build a MOX plant at the Savannah River Site to process weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel. This $5 billion plant, still under construction, has been plagued with problems. A commercial partners, Duke Power, dropped out of the project after a test of a fuel array made by AREVA from weapons grade plutonian was stopped in the middle of a fuel cycle at a Duke Power reactor at Catawba, North Carolina.
[/quote]Officials from the French nuclear giant AREVA were also there. They are interested in building reprocessing facilities in the U.S.
The head of the U.S. operation of French state-owned nuclear giant Areva told a breakfast meeting of news reporters hosted by the Energy Daily on June 6 that the solution to the U.S. bottleneck in managing spent nuclear fuel is a recycling center.
Jacques Besnainou, CEO of Areva’s North American operation, (right) said the firm hopes that the legislative, regulatory, and funding mechanisms can be in place by 2015 to start work on an 800 ton/year plan that could cost as much as $25 billion.
The company is already investing billions of dollars building a plant at the Savannah River Site near Augusta that will turn nuclear bombs into reactor fuel.
But no utilities have stepped up to use the Mixed Oxide or MOX fuelin their reactors.
[box_dark]Robert Alvarez, a Fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies and former aide to the Secretary of Energy and former Senator John Glenn, explains that many in the nuclear weapons community see leftover plutonium from nuclear weapons as a resource that should not be squandered instead of the very dangerous substance that it is. Prior to the plans for the MOX plant for weapons-grade plutonium at the Savannah River Site, the excess plutonium was to be locked into large, molten glass logs and stored in a repository.
“The U.S. amassed 111.4 kg of plutonium from its nuclear arsenal; all the countries that are reprocessing have amassed 250 kg of plutonium with no place to go. The plutonium that has been used for MOX by the French is a very, very small fraction, and they have discovered that they can only use it once because this spent fuel is so hot and the cost of disposing of this spent fuel goes dramatically up compared to the other stuff. ..The French may be recycling 12 percent. The rest is sailing into burials as de facto radioactive waste. So there are dreams and there are realities. The reality is that this costs a lot of money. It is not working…,” Alvarez says.
Six months before the Japanese earthquake, Alvarez told DCBureau.org the idea of MOX fuel does not add up anymore. “They are largely overtaken by events and the system is just ill-equipped, unable, structurally fixed into decisions that don’t make much sense anymore…The only prospect that you have here, which you should not dismiss, is that it has the potential of rendering a large amount of plutonium into a form that makes it extremely useful to reuse. And that was the original intent of the MOX program. It was not meant to be a way to generate energy and make money. Because the money is losing, this plutonium has negative value. They probably know this might not work and cause problems to reactors, and they might shut down reactors and lose money.”
Some environmentalists say fuel made from reprocessing isn’t as stable as traditional fuel and it has yet to be successfully tested in any U.S. reactors.
Increased interest in reprocessing could be linked to public fears about the safety of spent fuel stored in pools at nuclear plants.
He told the WSJ, “We don’t think there is a technical fix for the proliferation problem.”
The objection is contradicted by the fact that Lyman’s group has also opposed the construction of the MOX fuel facility in South Carolina and has done everything in its power to stop the government from permanently taking 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium out of circulation.
If the reprocessing process doesn’t separate plutonium why would there be a proliferation threat? If the MOX facility removed weapons grade plutonium from the nation’s arsenal, why would a self-described “good science” group oppose it? The UCS position on both counts appears illogical in this light.
The Global Security Newswire reported June 7 an update to a U.S.-Russian pact on eliminating stockpiled weapon-usable plutonium has received Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s approval.
The amended version of the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement recommits the two countries to each disposing of at least 34 metric tons of excess plutonium — enough to fuel thousands of nuclear weapons — beginning in 2018. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed off on the deal in April 2010.
While Areva North American CEO was pushing for a $25 billion investment in fuel recycling, using money from the Waste Fund, back in Paris at the Areva home office executives there were in retrenchment mode.
According to a report by the Bloomberg wire service for June 8, Areva may postpone investments, including some in the U.S., to mitigate the effect of the Fukushima crisis in Japan on cash flow and debt.
The firm said it would slow down spending on African uranium mines and possibly delay start of construction of a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. According to the wire service report, Areva said a previously robust backlog of projects is now less firm with lower targets for revenue, margins, and cash flow.
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