US nuke reprocessing would benefit French firm: study

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US anti-nuclear groups Monday condemned a project to built a plant where plutonium from weapons would be reprocessed for use as fuel in nuclear power plants, saying the plan was costly, dangerous and would benefit mainly French group, Areva.

A mixed-oxide, or MOX, plutonium reprocessing plant that is being built in South Carolina has become "an expensive effort that enriches contractors, led by the French government-owned company Areva," Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth said at the launch of a report by an anti-nuclear alliance.

Areva launched construction of the US reprocessing plant in partnership with construction company Shaw in 2007.

The plant, on the Department of Energy's Savannah River site, is roughly one-third finished and already three times over budget, with a price tag so far of $4.9 billion dollars, Clements said.

But even though the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan has highlighted the dangers of MOX fuel -- which Clements says was used in at least one of the reactors at Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant -- the US government is doing nothing to stop construction of the facility, Clements told reporters.

"As plutonium leaks from the damaged reactors in Japan, the US Department of Energy (DoE) continues planning for the use of dangerous mixed-oxide uranium-plutonium fuel in US nuclear reactors of the same design as the Fukushima reactors in Japan," Clements said.

He also said that MOX fuel derived from reprocessed weapons-grade plutonium has never been used anywhere on a commercial scale.

But Areva spokesman Jarret Adams told AFP that there was "not a significant difference" between weapons-derived MOX fuel and MOX made from recycled nuclear fuel, the latter of which is being used "in about 40 reactors in five different countries."

Adams defended the US fuel reprocessing plant being built by Areva and Shaw as an "important project to help convert former weapons material into usable material for US power plants.

"It removes former weapons material from possible future use," Adams said.

Anti-nuclear activists would prefer encasing the plutonium left over from the US dismantlement of its nuclear weapons in glass, and then storing it as high-level waste.

That method, called vitrification, is "cheaper, quicker and safer" than converting plutonium into MOX fuel, says the report released Monday by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a network of three dozen organizations.

© 2011 AFP

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