MOX Fuel in Fukshima Daiichi Adds Little Risk to Public

There is a good deal of misinformation being circulated about the potential harm to people in Japan from plutonium present in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in the unit 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi.  The real story comes from an independent group of scientists who make up the American Nuclear Society Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation .  Their conclusion? Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel has been used safely in nuclear power reactors for decades.  The presence of a limited number of MOX fuel assemblies at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 has not had a significant impact on the ability to cool the reactor or on any radioactive releases from the site due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Here’s a link to their full report.  It’s a short read and provides an excellent explanation of the current situation and risks associated with MOX fuel. Back in TWiN Episode #77 I covered the topic of MOX fuel, where it comes from, and where it is used.  Here are some important facts about MOX nuclear fuel: MOX present in nuclear plant fuel changes some aspects of the fuel’s performance in accident conditions, but these changes are relatively minor (see the ANS letter for details on this). MOX fuel comes from two main sources; recycling former weapons material into nuclear fuel, and recycling used nuclear power plant fuel for reuse. Creating MOX for power reactors is a safe way to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. MOX fuel can not be used to make nuclear weapons.  The NRC states “Using the plutonium in the reactor as MOX fuel makes using it for any other purposes difficult.” Plutonium in nuclear fuel is not unique to MOX fueled reactors.  All nuclear reactors contain plutonium after the reactor has been in operation for any period of time.  In fact, at the end of life of a typical low enriched uranium core up to about 20% of the heat being generated is from the fission of plutonium atoms. Plutonium in MOX fueled reactors can not cause the reactor to explode.   John Wheeler This Week in...

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Japan’s Nuclear Plants and their Operators are Performing Amazingly Well to Protect the Health & Safety of the Public

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan as they deal with this natural disaster of unprecedented magnitude. While I’ve been unable to post blogs or record a podcast this weekend, I’ve been trying to stay engaged by sharing news and bits of analysis via my twitter feed. There has been some excellent fact based coverage of the reactor damaging event at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  Unfortunately, very little of the excellent coverage is coming from mainstream media sources. When the opportunity arises, please point your friends and colleagues to one of the following sources for factual coverage of the events: · The Atomic Insights blog · The American Nuclear Society Blog · The Depleted Cranium blog · Idaho Samizdat · Brave New Climate This is an incomplete list, but these are a good starting point and they will lead you to other accurate reports and analysis. As I have watched the events unfold I am encouraged by the deliberate and methodical actions of the plant’s operators and the performance of the robust nuclear reactor design.  Even in these incredibly adverse conditions that far exceeded the plant’s design basis the public is being kept safe.  When the dust has settled we’ll be able to say once again that even in worse case situations nuclear energy is a safe and important part of our energy supply. As one person commented on my twitter feed, the refineries, natural gas plants, and other  fossil fuel infrastructure in the quake affected area are all damaged beyond recovery.  By contrast, the nuclear plants held up amazingly well.  Most will be able to resume operation after repairs and thorough inspections.  As I write this post there are no reports of members of the public being harmed by the nuclear plants and the World Health Organization has issued a statement that no public health effects are expected from the nuclear fuel damaging events. John...

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