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Synopsis

Mixed oxide fuel (MOX), a nuclear fuel containing uranium and plutonium and used in the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 3 in Japan, is fully covered in this authoritative collection of official documents with details about the fuel and efforts to construct a MOX fabrication facility in the United States. There is also extensive information about the health effects of plutonium. Material is presented from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

MOX fuel is not currently being produced in the U.S., but several European countries have been producing MOX fuel for more than 20 years. Their supply of plutonium is from spent nuclear fuel rather than nuclear weapons. Under agreements between Russia and the U.S., Russia also plans to build and operate a MOX fuel fabrication facility in Russia to reduce its surplus plutonium stockpile. In the American process, MOX is a blend of plutonium dioxide and depleted uranium dioxide that will be used as fuel in commercial nuclear power plants. Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. Plutonium dioxide will be extracted from retired nuclear weapons and other sources of surplus plutonium. The purpose of manufacturing MOX fuel is to meet the goals of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program. Under this program, DOE will reduce the inventory of fissile material from nuclear weapons by converting approximately 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium into MOX fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants. The process of converting the fissile material into MOX fuel renders the plutonium less attractive for use in nuclear weapons. In some countries, MOX fuel is manufactured by recycling plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. That is not the case in the proposed MOX program in the U.S. The Savannah River Site was selected by the Department of Energy.

Plutonium is a silvery white metal that exists as a solid under normal conditions. It is produced when uranium absorbs an atomic particle. Trace amounts of plutonium occur naturally, but large amounts have been produced in nuclear reactors. Trace levels of plutonium can be found in the environment, from past nuclear bomb tests, in several forms called isotopes. The most common plutonium isotopes are plutonium-238 and plutonium-239. Plutonium undergoes radioactive decay. In this decay process, energy is released and a new product is formed. The energy released is called radiation. When plutonium decays, it divides into two parts-a small part that is called "alpha" radiation and a large part called a daughter. The daughter is also radioactive, and it, too, continues to decay until a nonradioactive daughter is formed. During these decay processes, three types of radiation are released-alpha, beta, and gamma. Alpha particles can travel only a short distance and cannot travel through your skin. Beta particles can penetrate through your skin, but they cannot go all the way through your body. Gamma radiation can go all the way through your body.

This is a privately authored news service and educational publication of Progressive Management.

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