In an earlier blog post, we discussed the uranium fuel cycle and where the fuel that powers our commercial nuclear plants in the U.S. comes from. Today, we take a look at another nuclear fuel source: mixed oxide (MOX).
MOX fuel is made up of approximately 95 percent uranium oxide and 5 percent plutonium oxide. The plutonium used in MOX fuel is repurposed from Cold War-era warheads. A project in South Carolina is under development to produce this alternative fuel.
At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia began to dismantle nuclear weapons. This created a surplus of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In September 2000, the United States and Russia signed an agreement committing each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium.
Consequently, the plan for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility was pursued.
Overview of the MOX Project
The MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is being built by Shaw AREVA MOX Services LLC, will use U.S. weapons-grade plutonium to manufacture nuclear fuel (MOX fuel pellets).
The design of the facility is based on AREVA’s MELOX and La Hague MOX facilities in France. The French have used MOX technology for almost two decades and currently supply MOX fuel to over 30 reactors worldwide.
Located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., this facility will be able to produce up to 70,000 fuel pellets per day for use in both pressure water reactor and boiling water reactor fuel assemblies.
The MOX facility is designed to convert at least 34 metric tons of plutonium — the equivalent needed for about 17,000 warheads — to MOX fuel for use in commercial power reactors.
This facility is estimated to be complete in 2016 with operations planned to continue through the 2030s. Currently there are about 2,200 workers employed at the site. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has signed a letter of intent, saying they will be one of the first nuclear power utilities in the country to use the MOX fuel produced at the facility.
Recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspected the facility and identified no violations after a series of inspections. Click here to read the latest information on the NRC inspections.
The video below provides a detailed overview of MOX fuel and the facility.
For more information about the MOX project, construction pictures and a FAQ, click here to visit the facility's website.