The Tennessee Valley Authority continues to weigh the merits of using mixed-oxide fuel to produce atomic energy at nuclear facilities in two states, the Decatur Daily reported on Sunday.
"TVA has made no decision to use mixed-oxide fuel at any of our reactors," the Alabama newspaper quoted authority spokesman Ray Golden as saying last week.
The authority would only power reactors at the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Tennessee and the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama with MOX fuel if it is shown to be "environmentally and operationally safe, licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and economically beneficial to TVA's customers," Golden added.
The fuel is made from reprocessed plutonium withdrawn from old nuclear warheads. The U.S. Energy Department is constructing the country's first MOX production plant in South Carolina despite the fact that no commercial atomic energy company has yet agreed to purchase the fuel.
The Energy Department has determined that with appropriate precautions, MOX fuel is no more dangerous to the citizenry than traditional atomic fuel.
Others dispute that conclusion. Union of Concerned Scientists senior staff scientist Edwin Lyman said the plutonium-based fuel would be particularly unsuited for use at Browns Ferry.
"MOX fuel decreases the safety of boiling water reactors," which are in use at the Alabama nuclear site, according to Lyman. "It makes the reactors harder to control. MOX fuel, in an accident, could behave worse than uranium fuel."
Lyman also took aim at MOX fuel's claimed nonproliferation benefits. The conversion of fissile material into mixed-oxide material is intended to reduce the quantity of weapon-grade nuclear material available for weapons. However, "MOX is a cure that's worse than the disease," the scientist asserted on the grounds that terrorists could try to grab the material in transit or while it is held at nonmilitary nuclear sites.