Policy Issues

Disposition of Surplus Weapons-Grade Plutonium

In the late 20th Century, the U.S. and Russia began reducing the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals. That has resulted in significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium stockpiling in storage facilities and requiring 24-hour security. Future reductions in nuclear weapons will add to this stockpile of unused, weapons-grade fuel and remains a proliferation threat for the world community.

The majority of commercial nuclear power reactors have evolved to a standard fuel type consisting of natural or low-enriched ceramic uranium oxide fuel pellets encased in tubes of zirconium-based alloy. In order to use plutonium as fuel in such reactors, small amounts of plutonium oxide are blended with large amounts of natural or depleted uranium oxide. This blended fuel is known as mixed oxide or MOX fuel.

Fabricating surplus weapons-grade plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel renders the material unattractive for weapons use while rendering it ready for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors.

Atlhough the U.S. does not currently use MOX fuel, other countries have evolved their reprocessing and MOX fuel technologies and have been using those technologies on an industrial scale. Today, MOX fuel has been used in more than 30 nuclear power reactors in France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, with other countries making plans to implement its use.

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