Hello Savannah River Site watchers –
October 16, 2009 –
You may have seen some news about a serious problem at a plutonium facility in Cadarche, France, which is under the control of the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA, French Atomic Energy Commission). This facility, the Atelier de Technologie du Plutonium (ATPu), produced plutonium fuel (MOX) and is being cleaned out and decommissioned. Due to poor accounting methods of the plutonium in the facility, it was discovered that the build-up of plutonium had reached amounts of concern for a nuclear criticality incident, which has been big news in France.
Without going into more details, I wanted to remind you that the ATPu facility manufactured US test MOX fuel pellets which were inserted into “lead test assemblies” (LTAs) from US weapons-grade plutonium from Los Alamos which had been shipped by sea via the Charleston(SC) Nuclear Weapons Station. The French-made MOX LTAs were shipped back via Charleston in 2005 and tested in Duke Energy’s Catawba Unit 1 reactor near Rock Hill, SC. That test failed when the LTAs performed poorly and were withdrawn after two 18-month fueling cycle instead of the three 18-month cycles which were needed.
The ATPu facility could well have a bit of US plutonium involved in the current incident, but it more importantly reveals just how easy it is to “lose” a serious amount of plutonium in a MOX facility, enough to cause a dreaded unplanned nuclear reaction. (Are you paying attention, SRS MOX plant backers?)
Now, with an outage of the Catawba Unit 1 reactor set to start around November 20, has the US plutonium cabal modified the French-manufactured MOX LTAs for reinsertion for that third cycle they missed? Or, is Duke over with dealing with the shite MOX and now DOE has to continue to scramble to sucker other utilities, like TVA, into using MOX?
Have a plutonium-free day! Tom Clement, SRS -Action
News release on the Pu problem from the L’Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) – Nuclear Safety Authority: