Category Archives: MOX Fuel

Plutonium Disposition by “Downblending and Disposal”

By Adam Hoffman

Plutonium_ring 211x201The subject of plutonium disposition has a long history that dates back to the end of the Cold War, combining complex technical, policy, and diplomatic issues. A discussion of this history is timely because the Department of Energy recently released a report1 evaluating technological alternatives to the current approach of disposing of plutonium using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. One option—referred to as “downblending and disposal”—was assessed favorably in terms of cost, timeliness, and technical risk, but it introduces new technical and political challenges. This blog post provides a brief summary of the storied history of plutonium disposition.

In the wake of the Cold War, the United States and Russia were left with stockpiles of excess weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. In order to fulfill treaty commitments while supporting the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, the U.S. and Russia signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement2 (PMDA) in 2000. In this agreement, both parties committed to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium, primarily as MOX fuel for light water nuclear reactors. In 2010 this agreement was amended to permit Russia to consume plutonium in fast reactors with limitations on the production of additional weapons-grade plutonium.

The MOX approach was selected based on several evaluations of plutonium disposition options, including a 1994 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) titled “Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium.” This report advocated a “spent fuel standard” whereby the plutonium would be converted “to a form from which the plutonium would be as difficult to recover for weapons use as the larger and growing quantity of plutonium in commercial spent fuel.” The report recommended two options that fulfilled this objective: the consumption of plutonium in MOX fuel and the immobilization of plutonium with high-level radioactive waste (HLW). Although the report did not explicitly consider “downblending and disposal,” it recommended against vitrification without HLW, noting that “[f]or states such as Russia or the United States, a chemical barrier alone would be insignificant.”

To convert the weapons-grade plutonium to MOX fuel, the U.S. would build a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the DOE’s Savannah River Site. In 2002, the DOE estimated that the MFFF would cost about $1 billion, but by 2007 the cost had escalated to $4.8 billion. In 2013 the construction cost further increased to $7.8 billion, and as of 2014 the total life-cycle costs of the MOX program are estimated to be about $30 billion. In light of the current budget environment, this cost escalation prompted the DOE to evaluate alternatives for plutonium disposition.

In April 2014, the DOE released a report comparing five options for plutonium disposition including the current MOX program. Of those options, “downblending and disposal” was assessed most favorably in terms of technical risk and expense, with a life-cycle cost estimate of only $9 billion. In this option, plutonium oxide would be mixed with inhibitor materials and disposed at a geologic repository. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)—a repository for defense-related transuranic waste near Carlsbad, New Mexico—served as the reference case. WIPP received its first shipment of nuclear waste in 1999, and it has already disposed of several tons of plutonium from the Rocky Flats Plant. While the waste form for this option may not meet the “spent fuel standard” endorsed by the NAS report because it lacks a radiation barrier, this could potentially be offset by achieving a geologic barrier much sooner than would be possible for spent MOX fuel or vitrified HLW.

However, the downblending option faces several significant challenges. First, it would require a supplemental agreement with Russia pursuant to Article III of the PMDA. In the past, Russia has been reluctant to accept disposition options that do not degrade the isotopic distribution of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade, including vitrification with HLW. In addition to not altering the isotopic distribution, downblending also lacks a radiation barrier. Thus downblending would represent a significant deviation from the existing bilateral agreement, complicating negotiations with Moscow.

In addition, there are technical and policy challenges associated with using WIPP as the geologic repository. First, WIPP does not have sufficient remaining statutory capacity to accept the 34 metric tons of plutonium associated with the PMDA. As a result, using WIPP for disposition could require the amendment of existing legislation or enactment of new legislation. Further complicating this option, there was an accidental release of radioactive material from WIPP in February. This event is under investigation, and it is possible that WIPP may not reopen for years. While an alternate repository can be used in place of WIPP, the licensing process adds significant uncertainty and could substantially erode the estimated cost savings for this option.

Downblending and disposal of excess plutonium is under consideration given the motivation to demonstrate progress in meeting nonproliferation objectives, delays in the U.S. MOX program, and the current federal fiscal environment. To foster a discussion of this topic, the American Association for the Advancement of Science will host a breakfast panel event on the morning of Wednesday, June 4, in Washington, DC on “downblending and disposal” as an option for weapons-grade plutonium disposition under the PMDA (link to RSVP). In light of the benefits and challenges associated with the downblending and disposition option, we expect a lively and informative discussion and invite American Nuclear Society members to attend. In addition, ANS will host a conference on plutonium science September 7–12, 2014, in Las Vegas, NV.


1Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus Weapon-Grade Plutonium Disposition Options,” Department of Energy, April 2014.

2Formally titled the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation


adam hoffman 100x137Dr. Adam Hoffman is an intern with the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he is supporting various Center initiatives and programs. In September of 2013, Adam completed a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan.  After completing the internship, Adam will begin the National Nuclear Security Administration Graduate Program at the U.S. Department of Energy, working in nuclear nonproliferation.

TN-Chattanooga participants recognized at ANS Winter Conference

In September 2012, American Nuclear Society members in the Tennessee Valley area turned out in record numbers to support an ANS presence at a public hearing in order to inform the public and media about the nonproliferation benefits of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel program. These remarkable volunteer efforts were recognized in several venues at the 2012 ANS Winter Conference & Technology Expo, including the ANS Public Information (PI) Committee meeting, the ANS Board of Directors, and the ANS PI Workshop hosted by Mimi Limbach of Potomac Communications and Craig Piercy, ANS rep in Washington, D.C. The decision was made at the PI Workshop to designate the official name of the Chattanooga hearing as the “Chattanooga Caper.”

The ANS Nuclear Cafe caught up with four of the Chattanooga Caper participants—Steve Skutnik, Chris Perfetti, Lane Carasik, and Howard Hall—in the ANS Media Room and arranged an impromptu photo session.

Steve Skutnik (UT-K), Chris Perfetti (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), Lane Carasik (UT-K), and Howard Hall (UT-K). (L to R)

Cheers to these four members for their efforts, and we hope to see additional Chattanooga Caper reps in Atlanta for the 2013 ANS Annual Conference (June 16-20, 2013). Remember to stop by the media room to introduce yourself to the always friendly and helpful ANS staff reps.

The future of nuclear at #MOXChat

By Laura Scheele

On September 11, the National Nuclear Security Administration (U.S. Department of Energy) hosted a public meeting in Chattanooga, Tenn., concerning its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium as mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in power reactors. You may have seen the ANS Call to Action for the hearing and perhaps read the ANS position statement or background information.

L to R: Stephanie Long, Nick Luciano, Alyx Wszolek, and Suzy Hobbs Baker.

This is the story about how ANS members fulfilled the mission set forth in the position statement:  to inform the public and media about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program. It’s also the story of how ANS student members answered the Call to Action and contributed to the success of this event for the Society.

The Chattanooga ANS Local Section and the Chattanooga State Community College ANS Student Section both committed to supporting the September 11 hearing as a priority outreach project. ANS Public Information Committee Chair Dave Pointer e-mailed nearly 700 ANS national and student members within a 5-state radius and asked them to come to the hearing to represent the Society, to explain why MOX fuel use makes sense, and to make a stand for nuclear in an area where nuclear opponents had monopolized the public discussion about nuclear.

ANS members showed up.

ANS student members from University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K): (l to r) Hailey Green, Remy Devoe, Tyler Rowe, Seth Langford, John Wilson, and Brent Fiddler. (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

LOTS of ANS members showed up.

Chattanooga State Community College ANS students wear their blue-and-orange shirts in a standing-room-only public hearing.

MOST of the ANS members who showed up were students.

The faculty and student delegation from University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K). (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

ANS members who couldn’t show up replied to the e-mail to say they couldn’t come, but wanted to pass along their encouragement and their belief that this was the right thing to do.

We can take pride in how well the Society was represented in Chattanooga.

The students took pride in representing the Society and the profession—and did so very well.

Chattanooga was a communications victory for ANS across the board: a great turnout for nuclear professionals and students and a great event for explaining the benefits of MOX fuel technologies.

Defying expectations

The presence of so many young people supporting the ANS position on MOX fuel made a definite impression upon attendees. The most common question I was asked by non-ANS participants was, “How many Chattanooga State students are here today?” One gentleman who opposed MOX fuel prefaced his remarks by saying that he once taught at Chattanooga State and was thrilled to see so many students attending the hearing.

Chattanooga ANS Local Section Chair Samuel Snyder wrote following the hearing:

Samuel Snyder, Chattanooga ANS Local Section Chair

Samuel Snyder comments during the hearing.

One thing that struck me last night was the average age of those who attended the meeting in support of the nuclear science and technology industry. When you take last night’s “pro-nuclear” group as a whole, I would say that the average age was in the 20s.

A good number of students were willing to get up in front of the group and provide public comments in favor of the ANS-backed proposal for the disposition of surplus plutonium. The comments were very civil from the “pro” side, and mainly civil from the “anti” side, though my biased opinion is that the “pro” side did a much better job of presenting facts and providing sound arguments for their position.

It’s good to have friends…

This was the first public hearing experience for most of the participants. Recently, Chattanooga has seen a lot of anti-nuclear activity, including opponents who stage protests dressed as zombies.

In asking ANS members to attend this hearing, we were asking nuclear professionals to venture outside of their comfort zone in terms of making public comments on an issue that might not really be their area of expertise—and oh, by the way, you might also need to wade through a crowd of zombies who will be heckling you. No worries!

Three ANS students wisely team up and keep their backs to the wall to prevent a zombie sneak attack. (L to R: Alyx Wszolek, Steven Stribling, and Stephanie Long ) (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

That’s what friends (and professional membership societies) are for—to watch your back when you’re surrounded by zombies. Being the only science-informed person in the room can sometimes be uncomfortable and even intimidating. There is strength in numbers, and so coming together on a vitally important issue strengthens our association by strengthening our professional and personal bonds.

…Especially social media friends

Suzy Hobbs Baker of the Nuclear Literacy Project drove from South Carolina to support the hearing. (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

The social media promotion of this event contributed to its success. The ANS Social Media Group is an amazing collection of people with wildly different perspectives and backgrounds who share one thing: the conviction that the nuclear community needs to improve how we communicate if nuclear energy’s promise is to be realized.


Alex Woods, Chattanooga State

Alex Woods, Chattanooga State Student Section president, led off the comments.

Individually and collectively, they have shed much blood, sweat, and tears in their efforts—and they are willing to lend a hand so that your blood, sweat, and tears might be spared.

#MOXChat was the twitter hashtag for the Chattanooga hearing. The live-tweeting provided a minute-by-minute rundown of the comments and observations by nuclear professionals across the country who followed this on twitter. Unfortunately, the tweets have expired on Twitter.

A roundup of social media coverage of #MOXChat is at the end of this article. Many thanks to everyone who supported this event via social media. Your observations and advice were invaluable, and many of the students brought printouts of your entries to the hearing as prep material.

Steven Skutnik

Steven Skutnik

A special tip of the ANS Nuclear Cafe cap to Steve Skutnik, who did it all at this hearing: made public comments, live-tweeted the hearing, live-blogged the hearing here at the ANS Nuclear Cafe, blogged pre- and post-hearing at his Neutron Economy blog, and helped prep students in his capacity as UT-K assistant professor. Thanks, Steve!


The power of  showing up

Howard Shaffer, Meredith Angwin and Eric Loewen

Howard Shaffer and Meredith Angwin receive presidential citations from ANS Past President Eric Loewen.

Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer have spearheaded a nuclear advocacy effort in Vermont that has changed the public debate over nuclear energy. They often talk about the value of  ‘Showing Up’ to support nuclear. By showing up, Meredith and Howard have built a pro-nuclear grassroots movement in a place where people sometimes seem to think nuclear is a four-letter word.

Pro-Nuclear Rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Go Team Nuclear!

We asked ANS members to come to the hearing and comment on behalf of ANS—but we also asked those who could not comment to show up and support their friends and colleagues. They did—and they applauded every comment. Some who couldn’t stay for the hearing showed up to meet with the students and answer questions that they had about MOX fuel and reactor operations.

ANS members mingle before the public hearing begins.

Everyone there contributed to the success of this event—just by showing up.

Having fun is contagious

The disposition of excess weapons-grade plutonium is a serious issue. The ANS student members took seriously the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the ANS position and the need to counter some of the more implausible assertions by the nuclear opponents who attended.

Chris Perfetti preparing his public comments.

Taking the responsibility seriously, however, doesn’t mean being humorless. Sometimes we err too much on the side of serious and need to remember that positive experiences build upon themselves: having fun at an event makes it more likely that you’ll do something similar in the future.

Besides, we’re hilarious! Why try to fight it?

Sometimes a little #MOXSnark needs to be vented due to the wild claims made by nuclear opponents.

And sometimes brilliant ideas—like ANS Man, or a YouTube show featuring Sarcastic Science Guy in a Turquoise Shirt, or setting future public comments to cheering cadences—are born of these shared experiences.

All I will say is this:  My understanding of  plutonium dispersion factors has been forever transformed. Or, as Steve Skutnik live-tweeted, #youprobablyhadtobethere.

You know, in Chattanooga.


*in a technically credible, knowledgable, and thoroughly polite and eloquent manner, while adhering to the highest standards of safety (no zombies were harmed in the writing of this post).

L to R: Remy Devoe, John Wilson, Rob Milburn, and UT-K Student Section President Ryan Sweet

Social media roundup

Rod Adams, Atomic Insights:
Plutonium Power for the People

Meredith Angwin, Yes Vermont Yankee:
MOX & Hearings in Chattanooga
Meeting Success Story in Chattanooga
Show Up for Nuclear in Chattanooga

Steve Skutnik, Neutron Economy:
Wading into the Zombie Nuclear Horde
Mixing it up over MOX – a wrapup from Chattanooga

Dan Yurman, Idaho Samizdat:
Mix it Up about MOX in Chattanooga
Calling Out Red Herrings about MOX Fuel for TVA

US Areva:
Can you Talk MOX? 10 Things You Need to Know about MOX Nuclear Fuel

Chattanooga State students stand near a MOX fuel assembly mock-up at the open house. (L to R: Geneva Parker, Mark Hunter, and Brian Satterfield) (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information

ANS was able to support this important effort thanks to funding provided through its Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information.


 Laura Scheele is the Communications and Public Policy Manager for the American Nuclear Society’s Communications and Outreach Department.

Intermission blogging

The draft SEIS meeting for disposition of surplus weapons plutonium in MOX fuel started out relatively smoothly—lots (and I mean lots) of pro-nuclear folks in the room; my initial estimates would put the pro-nuclear folks from the University of Tennessee and Chattannooga State University at over half the crowd present. No zombie sightings as of yet.

Public comments beginning soon—in the meantime, Suzy Hobbs-Baker put together some excellent counter-cultural pro-nuclear signs.Pro-nuclear signs for the MOX meeting

Likewise, the Department of Energy open house preceding the meeting featured some very cool mockups of the proposed MOX fuel assemblies, including cutaways to show MOX fuel pellets within fuel assembly pins.

MOX assembly model

A mock MOX assembly

Laura Scheele of the American Nuclear Society is speaking now, presenting the official ANS position statement on disposition of surplus plutonium into MOX fuel, so that means the intermission is over…

Great turnout at #MOXChat

A quick shot of the ANS member room before the open house kicked off – students in the royal blue t-shirts are with the Chattanooga State ANS Student Section.


Live from Chatanooga – Introductions

Hi folks, Steve Skutnik here—you may know me from The Neutron Economy blog. I’m also currently an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee. I’ll be here with Suzy Hobbs-Baker (of PopAtomic Studios) and Laura Scheele live-blogging the public hearing on the use of surplus weapons plutonium in MOX fuel. I’ve also got a healthy contingent of eager students from the University of Tennessee here as well, eager to speak up for the nonproliferation benefits of disposing of surplus plutonium in MOX fuel.

UTK ANS students

Our eager (and photogenic!) contingent of nuclear engineering students from UTK

Call to Action: Public hearing on MOX fuel tonight in Chattanooga


American Nuclear Society members in the Tennessee Valley region


Public hearing on the use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel technologies for surplus plutonium disposition—Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement


Today, Tuesday, September 11
5:30pm–8:00pm Eastern Time (click HERE for schedule—scroll down)


Chattanooga Convention Center
1150 Carter Street
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37402


The existence of surplus weapons-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium constitutes a clear and present danger to national and international security.
National Academy of Sciences, 1994

The American Nuclear Society endorses the rapid application of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel technology to accomplish the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium (ANS position statement).

Industry and professional organizations should work to inform the public and media about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

Come join many of your fellow nuclear professionals and ANS members in the nuclear science community in the Tennessee Valley area to help provide some credible scientific and technical perspective on this important issue, as well as play an essential role in providing factual, credible information in this public setting to increase public awareness.

The hearing will be live tweeted at #moxchat.

Stay tuned to the ANS Nuclear Cafe for updates on the hearing later today.


Dr. G. Ivan Maldonado presents ANS comments at TVA Board hearing

On August 16, G. Ivan Maldonado, PhD, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, attended a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board Meeting on behalf of the American Nuclear Society to present comments on the use the of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel technology to accomplish the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium.

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has long regarded the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium to be vitally important to national security. In 2001—and again in 2009—ANS endorsed the application of MOX fuel technologies to accomplish this goal. Society members also endorsed the important role that ANS should play in informing the public about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

The ANS Nuclear Cafe caught up with Professor Maldonado to ask him about this experience.

Why did you feel it was important to submit public comments to the TVA Board?

Dr. G. Ivan Maldonado at Oak Ridge National Laboratory office

I have attended a few public meetings before.  In particular, I recall a visit to in Piketon, OH, several years ago when the DOE was entertaining the possibility of a collocated recycling/reprocessing facility and a fast reactor somewhere around the US.  So they visited several selected sites to hear the locals and public comments.

My colleagues at the University of Cincinnati (where I worked then); Dr. Henry Spitz and Dr. John Christenson (may he rest in peace), and Professor Rich Denning from Ohio State University joined me to help provide some educated comments on behalf of the positive impact such project would have upon an economically depressed area of Ohio, and also upon universities such as UC and OSU (research, industrial jobs, etc.) all which would benefit the children of Ohio and the surrounding states.

Our positive thinking and the good message we genuinely believed we brought forth seemed to “drown” within a sea of dozens and dozens of out-of-town activists who had apparently mobilized from all points across the US, sometimes driving for several days in large clusters with the sole purpose of “simulating” a public majority that had greatly suffered for years from the evil doings of the US DOE and the nuclear industry.  Each of their stories was more off the wall than the previous one, many of them designed as scare tactics with unfounded data or events that nobody could corroborate or verify.  Most of these individuals obviously had no ties to, or represented, the public interest of the local town or of the State of Ohio, and part of their tactic was to also loudly cheer each other.

In this manner, when I and my colleagues spoke, we were met with sepulchral silence or even a few boos.  I learned that day that these environmental activist groups were simply much more organized and better prepared than any of us were.  I thought that day they accomplished their mission, which was to simulate a mostly anti-nuclear public providing endless stories (rarely documented evidence) and, thus, overwhelming most of the available time for public comments.

I was happy to present a position statement to TVA on behalf of the ANS and was actually proud of the fact that my professional society was making a deliberate effort to mobilize our troops to help our voice be heard.

Could you describe the setting for the TVA Board of Directors meeting?

I thought it was very interesting that the TVA building was surrounded by cop cars and riot/bomb type squads with canine units all over the place.  The entrance to the meeting had a metal detection portal, much like going through airport security.  The registration table had a couple of ladies who checked your name against the list of pre-registered public speakers.  The order of the speakers (your number) was based on when you pre-registered on the Internet.  My number was 29, so I knew I’d be there for a while.

For people who haven’t submitted public comments before:  What were the mechanics?

The public comments for the TVA Board meeting were well organized. Speakers were summoned in sets of about 5 individuals at a time. When you started to speak, a clock/timer began to count down your 3 minutes.  The light was green until there was about 1 minute left, then turned yellow.  Finally, it turned red.

I had rehearsed “in my head” while waiting for my turn, timing it with my phone, and quickly learned that my brain talks to itself much faster than when speaking into a microphone!  Three minutes go by very quickly, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

What were some examples of other public comments?

Given that TVA is a large public utility, public concerns extend over a very large footprint of issues surrounding coal, hydro, gas, and nuclear generation, transmission lines & vegetation management.  So during the first 2 hours of the Board meeting, there was one statement against MOX, and two technically-based talks that supported MOX: mine and that by Dr. Thom Mason, the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  So I heard a lot of concerns from the public about presumedly indiscriminate cutting of trees near power lines, particularly affecting the looks of suburban neighborhoods and thus housing prices.  Folks traveled a long way to express their concern with marinas being built and developed in the lakes that serve the TVA dams, etc.

Inevitably, as it was my experience back in Ohio, probably 6 or more years ago, I noticed groups of activists who were present, and their reciprocal cheering & clapping that followed every one of their talks.  Funnily enough, after I spoke… “you could hear a pin drop.”


ANS Man vs. the Anti-Nuclear Zombie Plague

Adventures of the Charismatic ANS Man





By Dave Pointer

I grew up in the green rolling hills of east Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee.

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Photo by Wade Rackley/Tennessee Journalist
Modified by Dave Pointer


I moved north to the great city of Chicago to work as a nuclear engineer.

Dave Pointer in Chicago

 Photo by Nimesh Madhavan.
Modified by Dave Pointer


But it wasn’t long before I started hearing strange reports from home. Unsettling rumors—almost too strange to believe—of the dead returning to life and congregating in the streets of Chattanooga.

Zombies in Chattanooga TN

 Photo by Just Shooting Memories.
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


Their sole purpose—to oppose the use of nuclear science and technology, especially for the generation of electricity.

Zombies with chainsaws

 Photo by Richard Webb
Chainsaw clipart:
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


As the cooler temperatures of autumn approached, we learned that the zombie plague had spread: the zombies were closing in on the public hearing on the Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), scheduled for 5:30pm–8:00pm on September 11, 2012, at the Chattanooga Convention Center!

Zombies in a conference room

  Photo by Dries Buyaert
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


I knew that I must act—and ANS Man was born!

ANS Man is every ANS member and no ANS member—a mystery figure armed with a PASSION for nuclear energy and the FACTS about nuclear science and technology.

A Nuclear Superhero is born!

 Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer


Faster than a speeding neutron, ANS Man traveled to Chattanooga and registered his intention to address the zombie crowd. He also stopped by the ANS Member Hospitality Room in MEETING ROOM ONE for a delicious cookie.

ANS Man arrives at the Chattanooga Convention Center

 Photo by Dries Buyaert
Original ANS Man and Cookie art by Dave Pointer


When it was his turn to take the microphone in hand, ANS Man spoke eloquently and passionately about the benefits of nuclear science and technology and the safety of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

  • Nuclear science and technology improves our lives in many ways and in many different areas: generates over 20 percent of U.S. electricity; makes our food safer; improves the quality of our tools, gauges, and machines; helps diagnose injuries and illnesses; treats cancers; and powers our exploration of the solar system.
  • MOX fuel has been proven to be a safe and reliable fuel source over many reactor years of operation. The safety and performance record of MOX fuel is comparable to that of low-enriched uranium fuel.
  • MOX fuel has been produced in five countries and is widely used in many reactors all over the world. Many nations view MOX as an essential part of their energy and fuel cycle management policies.
  • The concept of using MOX fuel to dispose of surplus plutonium has received broad national and international support from scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the US-Russian Independent Scientific Commission on Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, Harvard University’s Project on Managing the Atom, and the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Eloquent Nuclear Super Hero

 Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer
Podium clipart from


The zombies were overwhelmed by his presentation, and, as they filled with new facts, new brains began to grow inside their zombie skulls.

The zombie plague was cured!

ANS Man cures zombies!

Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer
Brain clipart from


Hopefully, this was entertaining. Unfortunately, there are people who will stop at nothing to reduce the use of nuclear energy, regardless of the consequences.

By opposing the safe and responsible use of MOX fuel technologies to reduce or eliminate excess weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles, the anti-nuclear zombies really do pose a threat: they make our world a much more dangerous place.  As a nuclear engineer, I know that we can and should advance nuclear science and technology for the benefit of society. And we can do so safely and responsibly.

This issue is so important that the ANS Position Statement on Utilization of Surplus Weapons Plutonium As Mixed Oxide Fuel (ANS-47-2009) takes the unusual step of including a call to action—asking professional organizations to help inform the public about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

Don’t wait for ANS Man to act on your behalf. Plan to attend and give your statement at the SEIS public hearing on September 11, 2012!

Capes are optional.

ANS Member Hospitality Room

The ANS Member Hospitality Room will open at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, in Meeting Room One of the Chattanooga Convention Center.

ANS’s Mark Peters testifies to Congress on recycling used nuclear fuel

On  Wednesday, June 6, Dr. Mark T. Peters appeared on behalf  of the American Nuclear Society before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.  Peters is the Deputy Laboratory Director for Programs at Argonne National Laboratory and testified at the invitation of the subcommittee.

The  hearing is titled “What’s Next for the U.S. – Korea Alliance.” Additional information, including all prepared testimony,  is available via the Committee website. Peters’ prepared testimony is below and can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking HERE.

 Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel: Balancing Energy and Waste Management Policies

Testimony to U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

Mark T. Peters, American Nuclear Society
June 6, 2012

My name is Mark Peters, and I am the Deputy Laboratory Director for Programs at Argonne National Laboratory. However, today I am speaking on behalf of the American Nuclear Society; my remarks should not be considered as an official statement from Argonne or the Department of Energy.


I appreciate this opportunity to present the views of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on used nuclear fuel recycling as a means to achieve an integrated solution to energy and waste management policy. The ANS is a not-for-profit, international, scientific, and educational organization with nearly 12,000 members worldwide. The core purpose of ANS is to promote awareness and understanding of the application of nuclear science and technology. The ANS also wishes to acknowledge its longstanding professional collaboration with the Korean Nuclear Society (KNS). For more than 40 years, our two organizations have worked together to promote the safe and secure use of nuclear technology and materials.

For decades, the United States has grappled with the multiple challenges of crafting a long-term solution for the management of used nuclear fuel. These persistent challenges have taken on new urgency in the wake of the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which has focused international attention on used nuclear fuel storage. Although the challenges of waste management require close scrutiny, these issues are most effectively considered within the context of an integrated policy for nuclear energy and nuclear waste management. Unfortunately, the United States is unique in its lack of such an integrated policy. Most other nations that rely on nuclear energy, including France, Russia, China, Japan, and Republic of Korea, have policies in place that promote development of used fuel recycling and advanced fast reactors, in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of their nuclear investments. We must consider our nuclear energy technology collaborations and partnerships within this global context.

At present, the United States’ strategic investments in advanced nuclear energy technologies are lagging; as a result, we rely increasingly on collaborative arrangements with foreign research institutions to conduct research in these areas. These collaborations provide advantages to both parties, and the United States has benefited from them. However, close alignment between government and nuclear industries in these nations speeds the international deployment of these cooperatively developed technologies, such as used fuel recycling and fast reactor technologies, while the United States has moved much more slowly in its adoption of them.

The Republic of Korea has publicly expressed its interest in incorporating electro-metallurgical reprocessing technology, commonly known as “pyroprocessing,” into its long-term nuclear fuel cycle plans. Pyroprocessing offers several potential benefits over current aqueous recycling techniques, such as the PUREX process being used in France and Japan today. These include the ability to recover minor actinides, which otherwise contribute significantly to the long-term radiotoxicity of used nuclear fuel; fewer releases of fission gases and tritium; and, the lack of production of pure plutonium, which helps to address proliferation concerns. Clearly, there will be engineering challenges inherent in the development of pyroprocessing technology, as there are with any other advanced manufacturing processes. However, these challenges can be addressed through joint research and development activities, and solving these challenges will have important implications for the United States as well as the Republic of Korea.

The American Nuclear Society believes that nuclear fuel recycling has the potential to reclaim much of the residual energy in used fuel currently in storage as well as used fuel that will be produced in the future, and that recycling offers a proven alternative to direct disposal of used fuel in a geological repository. In other nations, recycling of nuclear fuel with proper safeguards and material controls, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has demonstrated that high-level waste volumes can be reduced safely and securely while improving the sustainability of energy resources.

It is the opinion of the ANS that the United States should begin planning a thoughtful and orderly transition to nuclear fuel recycling in parallel with the development of a geologic repository. Recycling would enhance the repository’s efficiency, eliminating the need for most complex and expensive engineered barriers and reducing the timeframe of concern from more than 100,000 years to a few hundred years.

The ANS also believes that the United States should accelerate development of fast spectrum reactors, which are uniquely capable of generating energy while consuming long-lived waste. Six decades ago, on December 20, 1951, scientists and engineers from Argonne National Laboratory started a small electrical power generator attached to an experimental fast reactor, creating enough energy to power four 200-watt electrical bulbs. That historic achievement demonstrated the peaceful use of nuclear energy and launched today’s global commercial nuclear energy industry. But it should not be overlooked that the first electricity generated through nuclear energy was produced using a fast reactor.

In closing, let me reiterate that the ANS believes that nuclear energy has a significant role to play in meeting the global energy demands of the 21st century, and that a global expansion of nuclear energy can be achieved safely and securely. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.


Current Recycling Technologies

PUREX: Current commercial used nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies are based on the PUREX process, a solvent extraction process that separates uranium and plutonium and directs the remaining minor actinides (neptunium, americium, and curium) along with all of the fission products to vitrified waste. The PUREX process has more than 50 years of operational experience. For example, the La Hague reprocessing facility in France treats used fuel from domestic and foreign power reactors. The plutonium recovered is recycled as a mixed-oxide fuel to generate additional electricity. This technology also is used for commercial applications in the United Kingdom and Japan.

There are a number of drawbacks to the PUREX process. PUREX does not recover the minor actinides (neptunium, americium, curium, and heavier actinide elements), which compose a significant fraction of the long-term radiotoxicity of used fuel. Advanced fast reactors can transmute and consume minor actinides if they are separated from other fission product elements, but incorporation of minor actinide separations into existing PUREX facilities adds complexity and is outside commercial operating experience. Moreover, existing international facilities do not capture fission gases and tritium; these are discharged to the environment within regulatory limits. Although plutonium is recycled as mixed oxide fuel, this practice actually increases the net discharge of minor actinides. Finally, the production of pure plutonium through PUREX raises concerns about materials security and proliferation of nuclear weapons-usable materials.

Pyroprocessing: Pyroprocessing is currently being used at the Idaho National Laboratory to treat and stabilize used fuel from the decommissioned EBR-II reactor. The key separation step, electrorefining, recovers uranium (the bulk of the used fuel) in a single compact process operation. Ceramic and metallic waste forms, for active metal and noble metal fission products respectively, are being produced and qualified for disposal in a geologic repository. However, the demonstration equipment used for this treatment campaign has limited scalability. Argonne National Laboratory has developed conceptual designs of scalable, high-throughput equipment as well as an integrated facility for commercial used fuel treatment, but to date only a prototype advanced scalable electrorefiner has been fabricated and successfully tested. Additionally, work is underway at Argonne to refine the fundamental understanding of pyrochemical processes to achieve greater control of the composition of the recovered materials, which will facilitate developing safeguards consistent with U.S. non-proliferation goals.

Fuel Cycle Research in the United States

In the United States, the primary organization with responsibility for the research and development of used fuel recycling technologies is the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE), through its Fuel Cycle Research and Development program. This program supports research to develop and evaluate separations and treatment processes for used nuclear fuel that will enable the transition from the current open fuel cycle practiced in the United States to a sustainable, environmentally acceptable, and economic closed fuel cycle. Ongoing projects related to reprocessing and waste management include:

• Using advanced modeling and simulation coupled with experiments to optimize the design and operation of separations equipment.
• Exploring an innovative one-step extraction process for americium and curium, radionuclides that are major contributors to nuclear waste toxicity, to reduce the cost of aqueous-based used-fuel treatment.
• Further developing pyrochemical processes for used fuel treatment. These processes enable the use of compact equipment and facilities, treatment of used fuel shortly after discharge from a reactor, and reduction of secondary waste generation.
• Developing highly durable and leach-resistant waste forms of metal, glass, and ceramic composition for safe, long-term disposal.

However, it must be noted that the United States increasingly relies on collaborative arrangements with foreign research institutions and universities to conduct research in these areas. For example, Argonne, Idaho, and other U.S. national laboratories are working with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, in a series of joint studies sponsored by the United States and Republic of Korea, to study disposition options for used nuclear fuel, including pyroprocessing, in order to develop economic, sustainable long-term solutions, consistent with non-proliferation objectives, for nuclear energy production and waste management. The state of U.S nuclear research facilities is declining compared to steady investments being made in countries such as France, Russia, Japan, and Republic of Korea. More importantly, those governments, as part of their national energy policies, have committed to the development and deployment of advanced fast reactor technologies, which are an important element of an integrated energy and waste management policy.

Advanced Fast Reactor Technology

The American Nuclear Society believes that the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors based on fast-neutron fission technology is important to the sustainability, reliability, and security of the world’s long-term energy supply. Nearly all current nuclear reactors are of the “thermal neutron” design, and their capability to extract the energy potential in the uranium fuel is limited to less than 1% of that available. The remainder of the energy potential is left unused in the discharged fuel and in the uranium, depleted in U-235, that remains from the process of enriching the natural uranium in the isotope U-235 for use in thermal reactors. With known fast reactor technology, this unutilized energy can be harvested, thereby extending by a hundred-fold the amount of energy extracted from the same amount of mined uranium.

It is the opinion of the ANS that fast reactors in conjunction with nuclear fuel recycling can diminish the cost and duration of storing and disposing of waste. These cost savings may offset cost increases in the fuel cycle due to reprocessing and fuel re-fabrication. Virtually all long-lived heavy elements are eliminated during fast reactor operation, leaving a small amount of fission product waste that requires assured isolation from the environment for only hundreds of years. The design and construction of a geologic repository would be substantially less complex and costly. Just as importantly, a repository of this type could be located in a very broad range of areas, increasing the likelihood of multiple host locations.


The American Nuclear Society endorses development of used nuclear fuel recycling in fast neutron spectrum reactors in parallel with a geologic repository to secure an integrated, sustainable nuclear energy system for the United States. This initiative should balance the needs of the nuclear energy production sector with those of the waste management sector to achieve an integrated system that increases resource utilization for energy production, disposes waste in an environmentally acceptable manner, and is economic. The global nature of nuclear energy production and waste management encourages the continuation of U.S.-foreign collaborations to develop and demonstrate recycling and fast reactor technologies. In this regard, the relationship between the United States and Republic of Korea is of mutual benefit and of strategic importance to our nuclear energy and waste management policies.


ANS’s Loewen visits local sections

Eric Loewen, president of the American Nuclear Society, kept up his rapid pace last week as he visited the ANS local section in Aiken, S.C., on February 15, and the one in Charlotte, N.C., on February 16. Loewen, as the featured speaker at the meetings of the two sections, presented his personal talk titled “Plutonium: Promise or Peril”.

During the morning on the 15th, Loewen toured the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility on the Savannah River Site, in South Carolina. The facility,which is being built by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, will convert surplus nuclear weapon-grade plutonium into reactor fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants starting in 2016. Under a 2000 agreement, the United States and Russia will dispose of 68 metric tons of surplus plutonium, enough material for many thousands of nuclear weapons (see Shaw Areva MOX Services for more info).

Later on the 15th, Loewen was hosted by Stephen Sheetz of the Savannah River National Laboratory for a tour of the lab and other facilities on the Savannah River Site.

At the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility: Zachary Kosslow (ANS), Amanda Bryson (Shaw Areva MOX Services), Eric Loewen (ANS-president), and Kevin Hall (NNSA).


NNSA-MOX Federal Project Director Clay Ramsey illustrates with ANS's Loewen how a fuel pellet boat will be used in the MOX fuel fabrication process.

The dinner meeting that featured Loewen on the 15th was attended by about 160 people. The dinner was hosted by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, in cooperation with ANS. “Dr. Loewen’s presentation was very well received by all in attendance,” said Amanda Bryson, chair of the Savannah River ANS local section. “The event brought together professionals at all stages of their careers from all over the Central Savannah River Area, representing many facets of the nuclear industry in the area. This was one of the best-attended events for ANS–Savannah River in the past year, and provided the opportunity for lively and thought-provoking interaction among our membership and the membership of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have Dr. Loewen visit.”

The next day, in Charlotte,  Loewen was interviewed on WFAE NPR Radio Charlotte. Click the “Listen” button at the WFAE webpage to tune in to the interview via the Comments page, or tune in to the interview


Dr. Clint Wolfe (Exec. Dir. CNTA), Dr. Loewen, Karen Bonavita (CNTA)

“Dr. Loewen had over 100 attentive local section members as an audience,” said Thomas Doering, chair of the Piedmont-Carolinas ANS local section, regarding Loewen’s talk in Charlotte on the 16th. “The Peidmont-Carolinas section historically has drawn nearly 100 local members for over two years; the greater Charlotte area is considered the energy capital of the nation. Dr. Loewen’s talk focused on the misconceptions of plutonium and how other energy sources suffered from a similar beginning.”

When asked about his trip, Loewen said, “I’m just so impressed with the vibrancy and vitality of these sections. They really are greater than the sum of their parts, and their parts are pretty great.”

Carolinas Section Officers James Bakke, Thomas Doering - chair, ANS President Loewen, Myron Koblansky, Andrew Sowder.

TVA’s countdown to MOX fuel

The utility is assessing options to use it 

By Dan Yurman

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) could be one of the first nuclear utilities to accept mixed oxide fuel (MOX) from the Department of Energy (DOE) for use in its commercial nuclear reactors. The government is building a $4.8 billion factory in South Carolina that is scheduled to start producing MOX fuel assemblies by 2016 by blending weapons grade plutonium with uranium. The resulting fuel can be swapped out for regular uranium fuel.

The government’s nonproliferation objective is to get 34 tonnes of surplus weapons-grade plutonium out of circulation forever. TVA’s objective is to get nuclear fuel that will work safely in its reactors and at a competitive price.

TVA is a public power provider for a seven-state region serving nine million people. In 2010, 36 percent of its power generation came from nuclear energy. One element of its charter, which dates back to the New Deal programs between 1933 and 1936 of President Franklin Roosevelt, is to support national security missions. TVA built power plants to provide electricity for the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge.

Today, it participates in the DOE’s nonproliferation efforts through the use of fuel made from blended down highly-enriched surplus uranium.

Evaluating the potential for MOX

Mick Mastilovic, TVA's manager of Nuclear Fuel Supply

Mick Mastilovic, TVA’s manager of Nuclear Fuel Supply, told ANS Nuclear Cafe in a telephone interview that the utility’s evaluation of the potential for using MOX fuel will primarily address safety as well as economics of using MOX relative to all uranium fuel. TVA has not yet made a decision to pursue MOX fuel licensing and implementation.

If TVA decides to use MOX, it could eventually replace up to 40 percent of the fuel assemblies in the cores of its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry reactors. The two Sequoyah reactors are pressurized water reactors with 193 fuel assemblies each. The three Browns Ferry reactors are boiling water reactors with 764 fuel assemblies each.

The DOE’s MOX plant is expected to produce the equivalent of 1,700 PWR assemblies to dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus plutonium. At a projected output rate of up to 70 metric tons heavy metal per year, the MOX facility may produce more fuel than TVA’s five reactors could consume.

The National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, are working toward agreements to market additional MOX fuel through the fuel fabrication vendors operating in the United States: Areva, Westinghouse, and Global Nuclear Fuel Americas (GE-Hitachi).

TVA won’t start out at the 40-percent core replacement level. The initial replacement level for the reactors will be about 8 assemblies of MOX fuel. Ramp up time to the 40-percent level depends on the DOE’s production schedule, how well the MOX works, and cost factors, among others.

“There is nothing quick about the process, as we have many gates to go through before possible implementation,” Mastilovic said, adding, “For instance, in the best case, we don’t expect to be able to load MOX assemblies before 2018.”

Explaining MOX to the public

One of the challenges that TVA faces is that the public perceptions of using plutonium as fuel needs some explaining. TVA starts by describing that MOX is a mix of uranium and plutonium. MOX has about 4-percent plutonium oxide (of which 94 percent is Pu-239) and the rest is depleted uranium oxide.

Commercial nuclear fuel starts as uranium oxide. What many people do not know, Mastilovic said, is that plutonium is a normal byproduct in nuclear reactors that fission uranium.

Plutonium builds up in the fuel inside the reactors and eventually provides up to 40 percent of the core’s heat energy. Fission of plutonium produces this energy in the reactor at the end of the life of the fuel.

“We’re not introducing a new element to a core, plutonium is already there,” he said.

And he also noted that “we’re not changing the thermal output of the reactor.”

Mastilovic said that while Pu-239 is more energetic than U-235, “The license governs the use of MOX. Heat inside a core can be managed by blending different fuels just like mixing different types of wood in a fireplace.”

Oak Ridge National Laboratory data presented by TVA to the Nuclear Waste Technology Review Board show little difference in decay heat loads between used MOX fuel and normal non-MOX fuel.

“Thus the difference in heat load between used MOX and used uranium oxide fuel can be accommodated in spent fuel pool cooling or space requirements and in dry cask thermal design,” Mastilovic said.

Next steps

Overall, with TVA support as a cooperating agency, the DOE is on track to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement for MOX fuel use that will assess safety for workers, the public, and the environment. TVA’s public affairs office told ANS Nuclear Cafe that the MOX program will proceed in phases with multiple opportunities for public input.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses for all the reactors that are candidates to use MOX will have to be updated to address physical operating differences and any changes in safety requirements. Technically, at this point, TVA believes that the physical modifications needed for each reactor are manageable. Also, TVA expects the DOE’s MOX to cost less than uranium fuel.

A decision to proceed with engineering and licensing is currently expected to be made in 2013.



Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.