* No decision on MOX use seen until 2012
* Plan depends on US program to process excess plutonium
By Eileen O‘Grady
CHICAGO, April 7 (Reuters) - The Tennessee Valley Authority is studying the possible benefits of using mixed-oxide fuel derived from surplus weapons-grade plutonium the U.S. government wants to dispose of, a TVA official said on Thursday.
TVA is analyzing the safety and potential economic benefit of burning so-called MOX fuel at two nuclear plants as part of a government program to get rid of excess plutonium, Mick Mastilovic, TVA’s nuclear fuel manager told the 2011 World Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference.
“The key thing it has got to be safe and advantageous for TVA customers,” Mastilovic said.
Use of MOX fuel from reprocessed nuclear fuel at one of the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant has grabbed headlines due to plutonium found in soil near the plant, but Mastilovic noted that all nuclear plants produce plutonium over time as a byproduct of uranium fission.
“Plutonium is common at all nuclear reactors,” he said.
While TVA is watching events in Japan and already faces opposition from environmental groups over the idea of MOX use, “we are moving ahead,” Mastilovic said.
Environmental impact studies are underway and TVA won’t decide whether to move forward with the program until 2012, Mastilovic said.
The Department of Energy program also requires completion of a facility to convert the weapons-grade plutonium into fuel assemblies that could be burned in the existing plants.
No MOX fuel would likely arrive at the plants before 2018 at the earliest, he said.
TVA is analyzing the fuel for use at the three-unit, 3,200-megawatt Browns Ferry nuclear station in Alabama and the two-unit, 2,200-MW Sequoyah station in Tennessee.
The Browns Ferry units are among 23 U.S. reactors that are similar in design to units at the crippled Fukushima plant.
Editing by David Gregorio