Can You Talk MOX? 10 Things You Should Know About MOX Nuclear Fuel

Be prepared to talk MOX in the nuclear weapons-to-fuel discussion this week. The NRC’s September 11 public hearing in Chattanooga, TN, provides an open forum for knowledgeable voices to speak up regarding the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on the disposition of weapon-grade plutonium.

    • What is this MOX nuclear fuel?

      The proposed Mixed OXide (MOX) nuclear fuel in the U.S. is composed of a small amount of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons, blended with uranium.


    • How are weapons turned into MOX fuel?
      The MOX process dismantles existing nuclear weapons, extracts the plutonium, and creates a blended uranium and plutonium fuel (MOX) for nuclear reactors to peacefully generate gigawatts of clean electricity.


    • How is MOX different from other nuclear fuel?
      There are two types of nuclear energy fuel: uranium oxide and MOX (uranium and plutonium). Plutonium has more available energy than uranium, similar to adding a gallon or two of premium gasoline to a car’s gas tank of regular fuel.

    • Is it unusual to have plutonium in a nuclear reactor?
      No, every nuclear reactor has some plutonium in the fuel after it’s been running for a bit. The reactor naturally creates plutonium from the uranium fuel as a result of creating energy. The plutonium will burn during the power generation process thus losing its attractiveness to be used in weapons.


    • How is the separated plutonium kept secure until it is blended into MOX?
      As with any controlled material, the U.S. government maintains strict and substantial barriers between the substance and outside access. International safeguards implemented in the MOX fabrication process ensured that no proliferation has occurred from this process for nearly 40 years.


    • How long has the MOX process been in use?
      MOX fuel is not a new technology. Electric utilities have used MOX fuel for decades. 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. Since then, the technology has been tested and improved continuously for nearly 40 years of safe and secure operation.


    • How does the MOX fuel program support national security goals?
      In a September 2000 treaty, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear weapons arsenals by converting 34 metric tons of plutonium from nuclear weapons from each nation into nuclear fuel for commercial power generation. The disposition of these materials equates to eliminating more than 17,000 warheads.


    • Where will the MOX fuel be made?
      A Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) is under construction near Aiken, South Carolina. As stated in this project , “In 1999, the Department of Energy (DOE) signed a contract with a consortium, now called Shaw AREVA MOX Services, LLC to design, build and operate a Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility … The facility is being built at the Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, South Carolina. It is located in F-Area in the center of the 310-square-mile DOE reservation.”


    • Where do I find more information about MOX fuel and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF)?
      Visit the MFFF website.