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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Globe and Mail regarding an anti-MOX Op-Ed piece by Prof. Franklyn Griffiths:

June 1, 2001

To the Editor, The Globe and Mail:

I wish to bring to your attention a significant factual error in the recent article (2001 May 30) by Prof. Franklyn Griffiths on MOX vs. immobilization for surplus weapons-plutonium disposition.

In paragraph four Griffiths states: "This strange use of the word 'disposition' reflects the fact that plutonium cannot be disposed of with today's technologies. Instead, this extremely long-lived, toxic and man-made substance can only be changed from form to form and moved from place to place."

In fact, with today's CANDU technology one could destroy about half the plutonium, relative to the amount fed into it. The remaining plutonium would be embedded in highly radioactive spent fuel, and denatured to so-called "reactor-grade" form. This represents an important distinction between the MOX and "immobilization" disposition options, since the latter maintains 100% of the original plutonium inventory, at full weapons-grade purity.

Denaturing of plutonium to reactor-grade has been recognized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences as the most important barrier to the "re-use" of the surplus weapons plutonium by host states like Russia and the U.S.

AECL also has advanced strategies that can increase the plutonium destruction fraction up to 75% and greater. In other words, three-quarters of the plutonium would be permanently destroyed, while generating clean electricity. The spent fuel would be a small fraction of that currently generated by CANDU reactors, and far shorter-lived due to the lower amount of plutonium.

Interestingly, Ontario already generates about one-quarter of its electricity from plutonium, safely, cleanly, and economically.


Jeremy Whitlock