Publication Laka-library:
Plutonium for Energy? Explaining the Global Decline of MOX

AuthorAlan J. Kuperman
DateOctober 2018
Remarks See this publication's associated website.

Plutonium is a controversial fuel for nuclear power for three reasons: it can be used to make nuclear weapons, is carcinogenic, and costs a lot to produce and process. Yet, relatively little information has been publicly available regarding the main use of this fuel around the world, in traditional (“thermal”) nuclear power reactors.

“Plutonium for Energy” is the first-ever comparative research project on “mixed oxide” (MOX) fuel – containing both plutonium and uranium – used in light-water nuclear power reactors. The project explores the manufacture and use of such MOX fuel in the seven main countries that have done so: Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It examines the security, economic, safety, environmental, and public acceptance experience in each country. A primary aim is to inform ongoing decision-making in East Asia – including China, Japan, and South Korea – about whether to recycle plutonium for energy.


From the publication:

                  Recycling Plutonium:
                   What Went Wrong?

                       Alan J. Kuperman
This introductory chapter summarizes the findings of our book, the first
comprehensive global study of "plutonium for energy" - using mixed-
oxide (MOX) fuel in thermal nuclear power reactors that traditionally had
used uranium fuel Plutonium, a man-made element that can be obtained
by reprocessing used nuclear fuel, is controversial for three reasons: it
causes cancer, may be used in nuclear weapons, and is very expensive to
purify and manufacture into fuel. Our team conducted research in all
seven countries that have engaged in the commercial  production or use
of thermal MOX: Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands,
Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. We found an industry in rapid
decline, as five of the seven countries already had decided to phase out
commercial MOX activities. This retreat is not due to the fuel's early
performance problems, which have been overcome, but to plutonium's
inherent dangers. Because plutonium is toxic, MOX fuel manufacturers
faced public opposition and took extraordinary precautions that increased
costs and reduced output Five of the world's six commercial production
facilities for thermal MOX fuel have closed prematurely after
underperforming. The price of thermal MOX fuel, in the six countries that
have used it commercially, has been three to nine times higher than
traditional uranium fuel. Due to environmental and proliferation concerns,
plutonium fuel has proved politically controversial in four countries -
Germany, Japan, Belgium, and Switzerland- which halted some or all MOX
activities while permitting nuclear energy to continue at the time. Security
is also a major concern, as each delivery of fresh MOX fuel contains enough
plutonium for dozens of nuclear weapons, yet reactor operators have not
significantly bolstered physical protection, and the shipments are
susceptible to terrorist attack. Ironically, plutonium fuel originally was
viewed as vital to the nuclear industry, but it instead has helped undermine
the economics, security, and popularity of nuclear power. This chapter
concludes with lessons for countries that are engaged in, or
contemplating the recycling of plutonium for nuclear energy.