MOX is made from a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides
and is used in nuclear reactors in Japan, Switzerland,
Germany, Belgium, and France.
Nuclear reactors normally burn enriched uranium fuel. When
MOX is used, around 30% of the enriched uranium is replaced
by the MOX fuel.
The reason for the manufacture of MOX was a political one -
the countries involved like Japan had to be seen to be doing
something about their useless stockpiles of plutonium,
produced by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.
To understand the history and rationale behind British
Nuclear Fuel's (BNFL) production of plutonium Mixed Oxide
Fuel (MOX) is one of the best ways to understand an industry
living in a nuclear fantasy world, out of control, and
oblivious to the reality of the deadly business they are
* Fantasy: producing MOX fuel to burn in nuclear reactors
will use up our growing stocks of plutonium.
Reality: To eliminate the plutonium, MOX fuel must be
reprocessed and re-used many times. This is expensive
because each time the MOX is used and reprocessed, the
quality of the plutonium is degraded, making it increasingly
difficult to re-use. Also, the share of MOX in a reactor
core is around 30%. The other 70% of the core contains
enriched uranium fuel, in which new plutonium is formed. The
result: a net increase of plutonium.
* Fantasy: recycling nuclear fuel is a good thing.
Reality: separating out plutonium at the Sellafield THORP
plant creates 180 times the volume of waste that you start
with. The highly radioactive by-products are held in
inadequate storage facilities and discharges have made the
Irish Sea the most radioactive in the world.
* Fantasy: producing MOX will save nuclear waste storage
Reality: Spent MOX fuel is much more radioactive because it
contains on average five times more plutonium than spent
uranium oxide fuel. After 10 years, the heat generation from
spent MOX fuel is twice as high as that of spent uranium
fuel. After 100 years, it is three times higher. Given the
very long half-life of Pu-242 (380,000 years), and
Neptunium-237 (2.14 million years), it is much more
complicated to store MOX than normal spent fuel. Instead of
partially solving our high level waste problem, MOX creates
even bigger waste problems: it needs more and longer
cooling; it has to be stored much longer; it is more
dangerous; and the costs are therefore higher.
* Fantasy: it will be cheaper to produce Mox fuel than
enriched uranium suitable for nuclear reactors.
Reality: recent studies in Germany show that MOX fuel is
four to five times more expensive. And that's before
considering the reprocessing costs of separating the
plutonium in the first place.
* Fantasy: no additional safety concerns over MOX fuel.
Reality: MOX in a reactor is more unsafe because plutonium
is more reactive and this hotter fuel can cause increased
localised melting of fuel in the reactor. Nuclear reactors
have to be adapted and re-licensed. About 30% of the uranium
fuel is replaced with MOX. Wrong size pellets can also
vibrate or expand, rupturing the fuel pins and causing a
* Fantasy: the Sellafield MOX plant will be an economic
benefit for the UK.
Reality: The operation of the Sellafield MOX plant was
forecast to make £200m profit. But the cost of building it
was over £460m.
* Fantasy: plutonium MOX is no threat to non-proliferation
because, even if it was reprocessed, it would not be
Reality: In June 1994, U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary
declassified further details of a 1962 test of a nuclear
device using reactor-grade plutonium, which successfully
produced a nuclear yield. The British Government itself has
recognised this test, as it used British reactor-grade
plutonium from Sellafield.
* So how are BNFL doing so far?
The first shipment of MOX from Europe to Japan in 1999 ended
in an international nuclear scandal. Crucial safety data of
the MOX had been deliberately falsified by BNFL. The total
cost of this episode to the taxpayer will be around £100
for 3 months, absolutely
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