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WASHINGTON, DC – In response to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) authorization of the construction of a U.S. Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman today released the following statement: 

“Issuing the permit for construction of a MOX facility in South Carolina is the crucial next step in the MOX program.  It is a key milestone in our efforts to dispose of surplus weapons grade plutonium in the U.S. and Russia,” Secretary Bodman said.  “We look forward to proceeding with this nonproliferation program that will ultimately eliminate enough plutonium for thousands of nuclear weapons in both countries.”

The United States and Russia are scheduled to begin site preparation activities for the U.S. and Russian MOX facilities this spring, with full construction of both facilities to begin in fiscal year 2006.  More than 30 nuclear reactors currently use MOX fuel in France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.

The facility will fabricate nuclear reactor fuel using surplus U.S. weapon-grade plutonium. Once the fuel is irradiated in existing commercial power reactors, the plutonium can no longer be readily used for nuclear weapons.  A similar facility will also be built in Russia to implement the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, which commits both countries to dispose of 34 metric tons each of surplus weapon-grade plutonium. 

The next step for licensing the U.S. facility will be for NNSA’s contractor, Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster, to submit an operating license application in Fiscal Year 2006.

Earlier this month, the NRC issued a license to authorize Duke Power’s use of four MOX fuel lead assemblies at its Catawba nuclear power station near Rock Hill, S.C.   Before MOX fuel can be used in significant quantities, the lead assemblies must be irradiated in a reactor to confirm they will perform predictably.   Irradiation of lead assemblies is a step towards permanent licensing for use of MOX fuel.

Media contact:  Mike Waldron, 202/586-4940