Plutonium for Energy? Explaining the Global Decline of MOX
|Author||Alan J. Kuperman|
|Classification||6.01.2.56/24 (PLUTONIUM - MOX & POSSIBLE RE-USE WEAPONS PU / HEU)|
|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:
1 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.