Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League · Institute for Energy and Environmental Research · Nuclear Control Institute · Nuclear Information and Resource Service · Physicians for Social Responsibility · Women’s Action for New Directions

September 28, 2000



Washington, DC, 28 September 2000: More than 160 organizations from around the world have joined together to oppose the use of plutonium in mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear reactor fuel as part of the third annual International “NIX MOX” Day on September 28. The groups issued a joint statement warning of environmental and nuclear proliferation risks from proposals to reuse plutonium instead of disposing of it as a deadly waste.

Earlier this month, the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement to use plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons in MOX fuel at commercial power plants in both countries and, possibly, Canada. Weapons-grade plutonium has never previously been used to fabricate MOX fuel on a commercial scale anywhere in the world.

Community actions protesting the MOX fuel plans are taking place Thursday in the southeastern United States, Russia, and Canada. “Plutonium is one of the most dangerous substances on earth,” explained Kimberly Roberts, program associate at Physicians for Social Responsibility, whose group is participating in many of the protest events. “It should be safely isolated and monitored, not turned into a commodity on the world market.”

“MOX fuel will undermine global nuclear nonproliferation efforts because the plutonium in fresh MOX fuel can be easily separated and used for weapons purposes,” added Michele Boyd, global outreach coordinator for the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. “MOX fuel will also complicate safe reactor operations and increase the consequences of a severe nuclear reactor accident.”

“Use of MOX fuel in nuclear plants will significantly increase the number of cancer fatalities projected to result from a severe accident, because quantities of plutonium and other highly radiotoxic materials are several times greater in MOX fuel than in conventional uranium fuel,” Dr. Edwin Lyman, scientific director at the Nuclear Control Institute, continued.

Despite the criticisms, the U.S. Department of Energy has selected its Savannah River Site in South Carolina for MOX fabrication. Duke Power has requested Nuclear Regulatory Commissions licenses to use the fuel at plants in North and South Carolina.

“A plutonium fuel cycle will require defense measures to be taken at reactor sites and along transport routes. This militarization of the fuel cycle is unprecedented,” noted Lou Zeller, community organizer at the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

Russian groups are also protesting their nation’s MOX involvement with events in Kaliningrad, Chelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Voronezh, and Dimitrovgrad. “Our Ministry of Atomic Energy proclaims plutonium to be a national energy treasure which it intends to separate from used MOX fuel, a process which will generate vast amounts of radioactive waste and increase stockpiles of weapons usable material,” said Vladimir Sliviak, co-director of the group Ecodefense!

There is growing opposition in Canada to the Canadian government’s offer to use MOX fuel in CANDU reactors. “Through the plutonium fuel project, the Canadian government is propping up its declining nuclear industry and fostering global traffic in plutonium, which will increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism, and accidents,” said Kristen Ostling, national coordinator of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.

All the groups support immobilization, a process that involves mixing plutonium with other materials to create a theft-resistant waste form, as an alternative to MOX. The U.S. plans to pursue immobilization for a small quantity of surplus plutonium that has been deemed unsuitable for MOX.