Another knock against MOX

, Washington representative and senior analyst | October 3, 2016, 5:55 pm EDT
Bookmark and Share

The MOX program has been staggering along for years, struggling for survival. Today’s news, that Russia is suspending the joint U.S.-Russian agreement to dispose of excess plutonium, should be the final blow that finishes this risky boondoggle off. It removes the sole remaining justification for the program, which was that only if the United States pursued MOX would Russia dispose of its plutonium.

Russia’s announcement included a statement that it will not use its 34 metric tons of plutonium for nuclear weapons or other military purposes.

For the uninitiated, MOX is a “mixed-oxide” fuel, which combines plutonium and low-enriched uranium for burning in commercial U.S. nuclear power reactors. It is the U.S. disposal approach codified in the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). To meet that agreement, the United States is building—at enormous cost—a MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

In response to Russia’s announcement today, our Senior Scientist Dr. Ed Lyman released this statement:

Russia’s announcement today that it is suspending the U.S.-Russian plutonium disposition agreement removes the last rationale for support of the U.S. MOX program as a means to dispose of excess U.S. plutonium.

UCS has long opposed the MOX project because it will make it easier for terrorists to access weapons-usable plutonium. There are cheaper, quicker and safer alternatives that would dilute the plutonium and directly dispose of it in an underground geologic repository.

The MOX project has experienced massive delays and cost overruns, and the Department of Energy now wants to cancel the project and pursue direct plutonium disposal.

Unfortunately, led by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Congress is blocking the administration’s plan and forcing construction of the MOX plant to continue. Graham has cited the US-Russian agreement as the reason for his continued support of the MOX program. Now there is no excuse to continue building the plant.

The U.S should immediately suspend construction of the MOX plant. Not another taxpayer dollar should be wasted on this project. The U.S. should instead dispose of its excess plutonium stockpile by diluting it and then directly disposing of it in a geologic repository.

For the most recent data on MOX, see Ed’s post on a recent Army Corps of Engineers report, which describes systemic problems that are contributing to the massive cost overruns and delays plaguing the MOX project.

And for the most comprehensive review of the MOX program, as well as a look at some of the alternatives, you can peruse Ed’s report “Excess Plutonium Disposition: The Failure of MOX and the Promise of Its Alternatives.

Posted in: Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Weapons Tags: , , , ,

Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Show Comments

Comment Policy

UCS welcomes comments that foster civil conversation and debate. To help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion, please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, and refrain from personal attacks. Posts that are commercial, self-promotional, obscene, rude, or disruptive will be removed.

Please note that comments are open for two weeks following each blog post. UCS respects your privacy and will not display, lend, or sell your email address for any reason.

  • Kenneth Reese

    How does processing and burning it for power present a greater risk for terrorism the processing and mixing it with other material and hen storing it somewhere? Do any secure underground repositories even exist?

    • nikkkom

      There is a very easy solution. Sign an agreement with French. Ship Pu to their *existing* and *operating* MOX plant. Then either sell resulting MOX to French (they already have their rectors rated for MOX and use MOX in them) or transport it back to US and burn it in US reactors.

      I can see only one reason why this isn’t done: this way, can’t spend untold billions on yet another govt project.

      • Thanks for the suggestion, but there are other reasons why this isn’t an option. First and foremost, France already has more plutonium than its system can handle and isn’t taking more. Second, the safety/security of shipping all the plutonium across the ocean is not high.

        • nikkkom

          This is the “can’t do” attitude.

          What’s the point in having the most powerful Navy if it can even safely move pieces of metal across the Atlantic pond.

          Paying French to extend whatever bottlenecks their plant had is way cheaper than building a US plant. US sank what, $20bn into it and no end in sight?

    • Thanks for the question, Ken. To burn it in a reactor requires shipping the plutonium to commercial nuclear facilities that do not have the level of security required to protect material than can directly be used to make a nuclear weapon. And, yes, the proposed alternative, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico, is a secure underground facility that already stores plutonium.