The problem with MOX

TVA has said it intends to use mixed oxide, or MOX, at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant reactors. MOX uses plutonium — from nuclear warheads in the U.S., from spent fuel rods in Japan. An enormously expensive plant in Savannah, Ga., is producing MOX, and only TVA has agreed to take it off the Energy Department’s hands.

The problems in Japan bring into focus the dangers presented by MOX, as reported by The Telegraph:

Nuclear expert John Large explains why Japan is preparing for a ‘worst case scenario’, as workers there battle with damaged power plants.

A hydrogen explosion could occur at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has warned. That would follow a blast that took place Saturday at the same power plant as operators attempted to prevent a nuclear meltdown of another unit by injecting seawater into it.

If there is an explosion in the second reactor in Fukushima and there are leaks, it could be more dangerous, Mr Large said because this reactor uses mixed oxide fuel, or mox fuel, which contains more plutonium.

“If you do an analysis of the same type of reactor, one fuelled with uranium, one fuelled with mox, what you find generally is that about twice as many people will require evacuation under a mox-fuelled reactor accident,” said Mr Large.

“About one and a half times as many people will die in the interim, and two to three more times will die in the longer term. So it has a very significant radiological impact in the aftermath of an accident.”

Mr Large led the risk assessment team for the raising of the damaged Russian nuclear submarine Kursk.

As I discussed in a column last year, TVA needs to think hard about its mission before embarking on the plan. The disaster unfolding in Japan should make it think even harder.

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Filed under Energy, Nuclear energy

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