TVA to study use of weapons plutonium at 2 plants




CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed to consider using fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium to power reactors at its Sequoyah Plant near Chattanooga and Browns Ferry Plant near Athens, Ala.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said in a statement that an interagency agreement has been signed with TVA to “evaluate the use of mixed oxide fuel made from U.S. surplus weapons.”

TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said the proposal is being considered as part of a national defense mission — helping the government dispose of surplus weapons materials — and as a possible low-cost nuclear fuel.

A spokesman for the Friends of the Earth environmental group, Tom Clements of Columbia, S.C., said the government is turning to TVA after a failed test program by another utility, Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy.

Clements said it is essential that TVA not get any shortcuts in a full test schedule that would take about seven years.

Johnson said that there is no set timeline, but that TVA will take all safety precautions. He said the utility may ultimately decide not to use the fuel source.

Steve Nesbit, Duke Energy’s director of nuclear policy and support, said the utility got “lots of good operating data” from testing the plutonium. He said the program was stopped because of operational issues, not the fuel.

The National Security Administration statement said “converting the plutonium to spent fuel is an essential step in U.S. efforts” to dispose of the surplus weapons-grade plutonium taken from nuclear weapons.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.



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