The United States and Russia have large stockpiles of surplus nuclear weapons-grade plutonium in storage. Safeguarding and reducing this inventory is vital for national security. Fortunately, U.S. nuclear utilities can not only safeguard plutonium, but also eliminate it while producing electric power. This is accomplished by processing and combining plutonium and uranium into a mixed-oxide reactor fuel known as MOX.
This threatening excess of weapons plutonium is ominous, and converting it into MOX is an international priority for nuclear disarmament. Importantly, the U.S. and Russia have reached an agreement to eliminate 34 metric tons of plutonium in each country - the equivalent of about 17,000 nuclear weapons.
A facility to produce MOX is under construction at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) can use MOX at the Browns Ferry plant in northern Alabama and the Sequoyah plant near Chattanooga, Tenn. After TVA begins generating electricity with MOX, other utilities will undoubtedly follow. France, Great Britain and Japan already convert plutonium into MOX to fuel nuclear power reactors worldwide.
Actually, the technology for reprocessing spent fuel was developed in the U.S. and used for power production until the mid-1970s, when President Jimmy Carter banned reprocessing because of concerns about nuclear proliferation. However, reprocessing is now done safely and securely in many countries and is essential in reducing plutonium inventories. Furthermore, 70,000 tons of spent fuel is stored in water pools and dry casks at U.S. nuclear plants, and reprocessing would reduce the cost of storing spent fuel and contribute to resolving the nuclear waste problem.
The development of U.S. nuclear power is still unfolding with the construction of advanced reactor systems such as the Westinghouse AP1000 with two units in Georgia and two units in South Carolina. Nuclear development anticipates constructing small modular reactors that can be used to replace aging coal plants. A sustained resurgence of nuclear power, with its wide impacts on jobs and economic development, is essential for converting and eliminating nuclear weapons materials into reactor fuel and generating emission free electric power for America's homes and businesses.
Salt Lake City