Guest blog post by Jacques Besnainou, CEO, Areva, Inc
I am writing this essay today as a frustrated and fed up reader of nuclear-related stories originated by anti-nuclear organizations. While most recent reporting on the Fukushima reactors has been fair, some quite admirable, the coverage of MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel has been mostly inaccurate and filled with half-truths.
As you may know, one of the reactors at Fukushima used MOX fuel. So what? The situation in Japan was not related to MOX fuel nor has its presence worsened the situation.
Yet, following this event, several anti-nuclear organizations have waged a campaign to spread misconceptions about the fuel and its use to serve their ideological agendas. They seek to discredit the U.S. Department of Energy’s MOX program and stop the completion of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
This project is part of one the world’s most important nonproliferation programs. It seeks to eliminate surplus weapons-grade plutonium under a disarmament agreement with Russia and produce electricity for the benefit of an energy-hungry population. Is it not bizarre that the same organizations opposed to nuclear weapons for decades are now so against the best option for eliminating them?
Enough is enough! I want to share the facts about MOX fuel, because I am confident that you, like me, do not want to be misled.
The debate over MOX fuel is too vital to our national energy security to let false information overwhelm the news coverage. For instance, some reports have suggested that developing MOX fuel creates greater proliferation risk, that it is more dangerous than traditional fuel in the reactor, or that it isn’t cost effective.
The facts about MOX fuel tell a different story.
MOX Fuel Is Safe
MOX fuel is not a new technology. Electric utilities have used MOX fuel for decades; it is simply recycled fuel for commercial nuclear plants. Some 40 reactors worldwide use MOX fuel today in five countries (France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan).
The first reactor began using MOX fuel in 1972. That means the technology has been tested and improved continuously for nearly 40 years, and international safeguards ensured no proliferation occurred during these four decades. These are the facts.
MOX Has Been Rigorously Tested
Independent safety authorities in five countries have assessed the use of MOX fuel in reactors and determined that it achieves the same safety standards as traditional fuel. Some critics point to the higher plutonium concentration in MOX fuel as reason for concern.
In fact, all nuclear fuel produces plutonium during the fission process. Generating power with MOX fuel safely burns plutonium, significantly reducing the amount requiring safeguards.
MOX Is Cost Effective
As a CEO, I know that our international customers do not use MOX fuel for philanthropic reasons or just to please AREVA. They are focused on their bottom line. The economics for MOX fuel are very sensible when you consider the rising cost of uranium and the challenges of waste disposal, if you do not recycle used fuel.
At AREVA, we respect positions different from our own, but we also value transparency and honest debate, which has not been the case when it comes to report on MOX fuel. Therefore, I encourage you to learn the facts of this issue and come to a reasoned perspective.
In addition, I encourage you to see for yourself. Please go to http://www.srs.gov to sign up for a tour of the Savannah River Site and MOX Project in South Carolina. Or please accept my personal invitation to visit AREVA’s La Hague and MELOX recycling facilities in France. We all have everything to gain through an open dialog!