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Nuclear -     1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Nuclear - Page Four

No Employee Will Ever Be Turned Away

Plutonium for Secret Profits

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - May 7, 2001

The Charlotte Observer has published another informative article about MOX nuclear fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is soliciting public comments on Tuesday night (link to place and time near top of home page).

McGuire Nuclear Station and the employees will be the guinea pigs for the MOX fuel test.

Duke is disavowing that profit is the primary reason for pursuing MOX fuel. The company wants to keep the amount of money saved on fuel costs as another secret. If the public knew the total windfall for the company, they might not as readily believe that profit is only a secondary motive for using MOX fuel.

The taxpayers will pay for the plant modifications to use the new fuel. That alone is a tidy sum of money. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the deal comes with a $130 million credit. There will be secrets wrapped within secrets. This is just one more onion to peel.

Employees and citizens who have MOX fuel concerns should not miss the NRC Hearing.

The complete article Below contains pro and con statements about MOX fuel.

NRC wants input on plutonium

The Charlotte Observer - By BRUCE HENDERSON - May 6, 2001

Meeting will focus on making of mixture headed to nuclear plants

Charlotte-area residents get their first chance Tuesday to influence a groundbreaking plan to fuel two local nuclear power plants with reprocessed weapons-grade plutonium.

Duke Power's McGuire plant on Lake Norman and Catawba plant on Lake Wylie would become the first in the United States to use surplus bomb material. European reactors have used a different form of plutonium fuel for two decades.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency in charge of assuring the project's safety, will require a labyrinth of studies, licensing decisions and public meetings before the new fuel goes into Duke's reactors in 2007.

Based on experience in Europe, Duke says it is confident the mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel is safe. Duke said using the new fuel will help keep plutonium out of enemy hands. The company also expects to save money on fuel costs, but won't say how much.

Critics, including anti-nuclear power and weapon groups, depict a frightening scenario. Breaching the decades-long barrier between civilian and military nuclear programs, they say, will lower the margins of error in producing power, increase risks to the public and invite unforeseen surprises.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which owns the plutonium, has signed off on the project. Officials OK'd a $116 million contract in 1999 with a consortium led by Duke Engineering & Services to design, build and operate a plant to produce MOX at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.

But the NRC, which says it is neutral on the project, has to license both the production plant and Duke's use of the fuel. At Tuesday's meeting in Charlotte, the agency wants to hear public comments on what to include in its environmental impact study of the plant, and on alternatives. Those alternatives include encasing all surplus plutonium in terrorist-proof tombs of highly radioactive waste, a tactic the Energy Department recently suspended.

In the MOX plan, plutonium would be shipped to Savannah River, mostly in the form of softball-sized "pits" from nuclear weapons stored in Texas. The Energy Department would convert the highly toxic, radioactive metal into a powder.

The MOX fabrication plant would mix one part plutonium with about 20 parts of enriched uranium, the usual nuclear fuel, and seal it in half-inch pellets. The pellets fill 12-foot rods that are bundled together for loading into reactors. MOX fuel would make up about 40 percent of a reactor's load.

Tests of MOX are expected at McGuire in 2003.

Is it safe? The Energy Department said "yes" last year.

"While the Department acknowledges that there are differences in the use of MOX fuel compared to (uranium) fuel, these differences are not expected to decrease the safety of the reactors," it said.

The use of MOX fuel would change the results of a severe reactor accident, the department said, but not necessarily make them worse than one involving only conventional fuel. In its worst-case scenario, the Energy Department projected the number of total deaths within 50 miles could decrease by 4 percent or increase as much as 14 percent.

Such a scenario has a 1-in-4.2 million chance of happening, it said.

The Nuclear Control Institute, which opposes nuclear arms, believes the government estimate is low. The group says that a severe accident involving MOX would kill up to twice as many people within 10 miles and cause 27 percent more cancer deaths.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it has not analyzed the MOX plan in detail. But a 1999 agency paper spelled out differences between MOX and conventional fuels, as well as between the types of MOX used in Europe and the fuel planned for use here.

Weapons-grade plutonium is mostly plutonium-239, the type used in bombs because its atoms split so easily. Europe uses reactor-grade, which is derived from the plutonium produced in all nuclear reactors.

Compared with conventional fuel, MOX fuel "burns" at higher temperatures and releases slightly more energy. This makes reactors somewhat harder to control, such as when boosting or shutting down power - an issue the NRC called perhaps the most important technical problem.

In an accident, MOX fuel could release different concentrations of radioactive, toxic elements. The fuel isn't expected to increase the likelihood of an accident, the government says.

Critics have seized on the higher risks that MOX fuel could prematurely age the metal surfaces of reactor vessels. The NRC says it doesn't believe it to be a major problem, but has promised to review the issue.

Overall, the NRC says that the experience in Europe suggests all of the issues can be resolved so the fuel can be used.

Duke says it expects the fuel to prompt few changes at McGuire, on the south end of Lake Norman, and Catawba, six miles northwest of Rock Hill on Lake Wylie. Most will involve security, fuel handling and the boron solution that helps control the chain reaction inside reactors. Officials say they don't expect any problem in winning approval.

Duke says worst-case accident risks at McGuire and Catawba are now 10 to 100 times safer than NRC guidelines.

"Any changes that we might anticipate developing from the use of mixed-oxide versus enriched uranium is not enough to change that conclusion," said Steven Nesbit, Duke's MOX fuel manager.

Critics see transporting the material as an Achilles' heel of the plan. The Energy Department estimates 2,500 shipments of radioactive material would be needed over the life of the project, including about 60 trucks carrying fuel to Catawba and McGuire every 18 months.

The department says its Safe Secure Transport system has never had an accident leading to a fatality or release of radioactive material in nearly 100 million miles of transport since 1975.

But in a report last week, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said more than 1,190 safety infractions, accidents or other "occurrences" have been reported in the transport system.

An accident during transit would pose greater health risks to people nearby, the group said, while terrorists could target MOX shipments. Equipped with a simple lab, critics claim, terrorists could separate the plutonium in fuel assemblies into bomb material within 24 hours.

"If it wasn't relatively easy, there would be no safeguards," said Don Moniak of the group's Aiken office.

Duke and federal officials say it would take a facility similar to the MOX-production plant to convert the fuel back into bomb material.

"If the terrorists wanted a bomb, why not just take a bomb?" said Rick Ford, an Energy spokesman at the Savannah River Site.

Plutonium for Profits

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - May 6, 2001

The article below, published by The Charlotte Observer, provides a lot of background information about the Savannah River Site. The bomb producing site is proposed to be used to manufacture mixed oxide nuclear fuel (MOX) from plutonium.

The government came to the town in the 50’s and offered the mostly poor people jobs. Of course, they were not told up front exactly what they were getting into.

Now they know, but many are dependent upon the site for economic survival. Many want the MOX site, even thought the area is already polluted by many types of contaminants.

Trading health for wealth is an old story. Trading health for survival is a more accurate description. People with near zero economic opportunities are often willing to trade their quality of life tomorrow for survival today.

A Duke Energy spokesperson tried to downplay the profit potential for the company, indicating that it was only “a side benefit.” We are here to tell you that profit is never a side issue for Duke Energy! Profit is always the overpowering concern that drives all company decisions. Profit is not necessarily a dirty word. It becomes that only when it blinds one to all other considerations.

Plutonium profit is only a side benefit for Duke Energy? That’s really a good one! Why don’t they try to come up with something believable?

Plutonium at the Savannah River Site

The Charlotte Observer - By JENNIFER TALHELM - May 5, 2001

AIKEN, S.C. - The bomb plant is simply part of the landscape.

Just about everybody in this western S.C. town knows some of the almost 14,000 people who work at the Savannah River Site, one of the factories that produced this nation's nuclear arsenal.

Now the site's future is tied to a controversial plan to fuel the Charlotte region's nuclear reactors. Some 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium would be shipped to South Carolina if the plan is approved by the federal government in the next couple of years. Most would be converted to fuel and hauled by truck - about 60 loads every 18 months - to Duke Power's nuclear power reactors on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie near Charlotte.

Environmentalists and anti-war activists warn that the effort could be a public health disaster, or an invitation to terrorists wanting to steal the plutonium. The U.S. Department of Energy promotes it as a safe, practical way to dismantle bombs.

But many in the Aiken area don't dwell on national security threats or the contamination left from decades of nuclear bomb-making. The plant has defined life in the Savannah River region for 50 years, and the plutonium plan means it could stay open for at least another decade.

This quiet corner of South Carolina, with its rolling farmland and Spanish-moss draped live oaks, is at the center of a national fight about nuclear safety. The debate continues in Charlotte Tuesday night, when the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds a public meeting to gather comment on the plutonium plan.

The United States and Russia have agreed to begin dismantling nuclear bombs and extracting 50 tons of plutonium by 2007.

In the United States, the plutonium would be shipped from Texas and Colorado, among other places, to the Savannah River Site in heavily guarded truck convoys. Over 15 years, about 34 tons of the plutonium would be mixed with uranium, creating a fuel called mixed oxide, or MOX. That fuel would be trucked to the McGuire and Catawba nuclear plants.

The plutonium plan would mean a new $1.5 billion complex at the site, where workers would dismantle the same weapons they once helped create.

Savannah River Site supporters lobbied hard for the job.

"If (plutonium fuel is) going to be somewhere, I'd rather it be here and making more jobs and helping the economy in this area," said Liz Victor, who was raised in Aiken and owns a coffee roastery downtown. Her father recently retired from the site.

The 310-square-mile weapons factory has faced massive change since the end of the Cold War. In the '90s, about 10,000 jobs were eliminated, although the annual payroll still is almost $1 billion.

Residents near other potential MOX sites across the country protested the idea of using bomb material in commercial power reactors. They feared trucking plutonium would risk millions of people's lives in an accident or terrorist attack. But at an August 1998 public hearing in North Augusta, 600 people - many of them state and local officials - crowded a room to speak in favor of building the plant in South Carolina.

Victor said she grew up believing the government would protect the people of Aiken from any danger. She still believes that.

"We just continue to have that faith that if they're going to bring that here, it's going to be good for Aiken and our area."

The first sign of the federal government's interest in the Savannah River region was when scientists mysteriously descended in 1949, taking soil samples. About a year later, residents of Ellenton, Dunbarton and other rural communities were told they were being evacuated for a giant, top-secret construction project.

After studying 100 sites, officials decided the Aiken area met the necessary profile. It was a rural Southern location, out of range of Soviet bombers. It had a moderately sized city - Augusta, Ga. - nearby to supply workers, a network of highways, a large river - and a patriotic population.

The area had been known as a winter haven for wealthy Northerners. Vacationers stayed in elaborate retreats and brought horse-racing and polo with them to the South. But many people living in the region straddling the Savannah River were cotton sharecroppers who had little education and less money.

In place of farms, homes and graveyards, a weapons complex arose, including five towering nuclear reactors, in about as many years. The facility began producing nuclear weapons materials in 1953. Operations were kept secret, although residents eventually came to call it the "bomb plant."

Tim Webb, who sells antiques in downtown Aiken, grew up hearing stories of how the government relocated people to build the plant. His family was from just outside Ellenton, and former neighbors still gather for reunions at which the government thanks them for giving up their homes.

Webb said his older neighbors talked bitterly about the government taking their property. But Webb's grandfather saw it as an opportunity. He opened a general store and a trailer park across the street during construction for the thousands of construction workers who descended on Aiken

"Before the plant came, it was a nice community but a small community," Webb said. "When the plant came, it was a population explosion. Now I generally just think about it as an income and a stabilizer for the community."

Pat Mason, director of the Center for Carolina Living, a firm that tracks who moves to South Carolina and why, said the project had a profound economic impact on the entire state. It attracted highly educated people who stayed in South Carolina. Mason compares it to Research Triangle Park, which was developed near Raleigh a few years later.

"A hundred years after the Civil War, nothing was really going on in the South," Mason said. "The first sparks may have been the Savannah River Site. It was the first infusion of money and people and land acquisition.

"It's hard to imagine Aiken and Augusta without that. It wouldn't be without that."

For most of the Savannah River Site's 50 years, operations were top secret. At its peak, almost 25,000 people worked at the site.

They headed down the highway through wilderness to office buildings, research laboratories and nuclear reactors. Some of them made plutonium and others made tritium, the radioactive gas that triggers a nuclear blast.

They buried low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in the site's vast woodlands and fields. Some waste was buried in nothing stronger than a cardboard box in the '50s and '60s.

And for years, area residents knew little about it.

In the 1980s, concerns about safety and environmental damage fueled by the disastrous explosion at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union focused attention on the nuclear facilities.

People learned about accidents and equipment breakdowns - some of them potentially devastating - that had occurred through the decades and about how polluted the land and water really is.

The entire complex is one large Superfund site, meaning the government has placed a priority on cleaning it up. Contaminating it is everything from plutonium to cancer-causing solvents.

Savannah River Site employees qualify for a compensation package for defense workers ill from their jobs in nuclear weapons factories. Among the conditions workers suffer from are hearing loss and lung damage from beryllium and asbestos.

But health studies do not show an increased risk of cancer from living near the site. The Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry found the region has a higher than average cancer mortality rate. But the Georgia researchers say another study, done by the Medical University of South Carolina, was more comprehensive. And the MUSC study found the region's cancer rate was no different than the national average.

Military retiree Ernest Jackson of Beech Island loves to fish in the tributaries of the Savannah River. He won't eat his catch, though.

"I don't trust (the fish), so I don't eat them," Jackson said. "I just don't like the water."

Many others brush off the talk of cancer clusters and pollution.

"I guess you could be worried about stuff like your health: Is there a higher cancer rate down here because of the Savannah River Site?" said Jane Irwin of Aiken. "I love Aiken. That stuff's everywhere. It could be anything. Here, it happens to be the Savannah River Site."

Environmentalists say the government should focus on cleaning up the site, and that the MOX facility will just add to the risks.

Government officials say European nuclear power plants have been using nonweapons plutonium for years. They tout the program as a major step toward nuclear disarmament.

"We think it's the right thing to do," said Duke Power spokeswoman Becky McSwain. "We will get the fuel less expensively than we get uranium - that's a side benefit. The real benefit is once it's used up, it will no longer be used for weapons."

Opponents point out that weapons plutonium, which is designed to explode, has never been used as fuel.

"It's in the top five dumb ideas ever tried," said David Lochbaum, of the anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists. "We're essentially pointing the threat from our enemies to ourselves."

But more than the potential hazards of handling plutonium or the threat of environmental disaster, many in Aiken fear what would happen to their economy without the Savannah River Site.

"All in all, I think it has made life a little easier," said Webb, the antique salesman. "I wouldn't want to see it completely closed down, because what would this community do? What will replace it?"

Letter From the MOX Fuel Project Manager

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - May 5, 2001

(The letter below was received by us from the Duke Energy MOX Fuel Project Manager. It is posted here with his permission.)

I note with some dismay that you have apparently adopted a position opposed to Duke Energy's participation in the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel project. You are aligning yourself with groups that are opposed to nuclear energy. The fact is that Duke's nuclear plants provide safe, clean, and economical electric power to millions of people and businesses in North and South Carolina. In addition, the plants provide a livelihood for thousands of Duke employees. It is in no way, shape, or form in the interest of Duke employees to undermine Duke Power's nuclear program or to work with opponents of that program.

The MOX Fuel Project has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences as a key part of worldwide efforts to combat nuclear weapons proliferation. The project enjoys bipartisan congressional support as well as international backing.

MOX fuel has been safely manufactured and used in European nuclear power plants for decades. Today, 35 nuclear plants, similar to McGuire and Catawba, are using MOX fuel. MOX fuel is a proven technology. If it were not so, Duke would not be involved in the program.

Prior to receiving and loading any MOX fuel, Duke must apply for and receive approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC process is open to public participation and subject to intervention and appeal. The bottom line is that no MOX fuel will go into Duke plants until both Duke and the NRC are fully satisfied that the fuel will perform safely.

People who are interested in learning more about the MOX Fuel Project and the associated licensing process may access websites at the NRC ( and the Department of Energy (website In addition, Duke is hosting a series of Open Houses on the MOX Fuel Project. These informal meetings are intended to provide employees and the public with an opportunity to (i) learn more about the project and (ii) speak directly with the Duke employees who are involved with it. The first Open House was held at McGuire last night. The second will be in the Energy Center Lobby from 5-8 pm this evening, May 2. The final Open House will be at the Catawba Visitors Center tomorrow night, May 3, from 4:30-7:30 pm. I invite you to come by and take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the MOX Fuel Project.

I hope that you will reconsider your position on this important program.

Steve Nesbit
MOX Fuel Project Manager, Duke Power

(Read on for our reply.)

The Reply

Duke Energy Employee Advocate - May 5, 2001

Thank you for writing, Mr. Nesbit. From your title, we can understand your concern with the MOX fuel issue.

It is true that those opposed to MOX fuel are generally opposed to any type of nuclear power generation. That does not mean that these people should be censored. Duke Energy has been in the propaganda game for a long time. They gleefully label anyone who stands in their way to more profits as part of the “lunatic fringe.” The “watchdogs” of society play a very important roll. You may not always agree with them, but you should never ignore them. They have been right so many times in the past.

A recent example involves the tobacco industry. They financed study after study that always seemed to give tobacco a clean bill of health. From reading their reports, one might even think that tobacco was a health food! They had no patience with those who spoke out about the heath hazards of tobacco. The end game was not too pretty for the tobacco companies. Many of their “studies” were proven to be fraudulent, and they paid a price for their arrogance and deception.

The men and women who oppose nuclear power are people of conscience. They often receive no salary for their work and many use their own funds to finance their efforts. Those who promote nuclear power usually are paid to do so. They have a vested financial interest in the proliferation of nuclear power. Between the two, who has more credibility? The disinterested person should never be disregarded.

We have never said that we oppose MOX fuel. In the NRC MOX Hearing announcement, we stated: “Our only position in the matter is that one should never accept any Duke Energy proposal just because they say that it will be good for you.”

That was an invitation for all parties to look at all sides of the issue and make their own decision. If the MOX fuel issue can pass the smell test, then no amount hearings and debate will jeopardize the program. If it is a good program, the more it is investigated, the more this will come out. Only if there are certain things that employees and the public should not know, will there be any problems. Duke has a long history of secrecy. We want the secrets exposed.

The attempted secret deal with the California governor is another story, but an example of the ongoing cover-ups and hiding of information.

We have little interest in short term results. The results of actions taken today may not be fully realized for five, ten, or twenty years on down the road. What seems unreasonable today, will make more sense as time develops.

Yes, nuclear power has proven to be economical in North and South Carolina. Clean? If the nuclear waste problem is ignored and there are no major safety breaches, it does not pollute the atmosphere as coal does. Yes, Duke’s nuclear plants have provided safe power generation; we want to keep it that way. It does not matter if Duke has safely operated nuclear plants for 10,000 years, the catastrophic potential should never be ignored. Resting on one’s laurels is an open invitation for disaster. The watchdog groups deserve a vote of thanks for keeping the industry on its toes.

The specter of huge unemployment due to reactor shut downs by the government is just not very realistic. That scare tactic will not fly. The current administration is owned by big business. It is committed to giving industry anything that it wants. There is even talk of building new nuclear reactors.

If, as some have claimed, the radioactive dose rates increase due to MOX fuel, this is a real concern to nuclear workers.

It can very much be in the interest of Duke employees to question all policies and programs of Duke Energy, nuclear included. It all goes back to January 1, 1997. Duke Energy (then Duke Power) broke the retirement and health coverage promises made to employees for decades. More secrecy was involved. Employees were excluded from all discussion of the matter. The company sneaked around, plotting just how to stab the employees in the back.

After the unscrupulous deed was done, the company covered-up vital information about the pension conversion. They glossed over important details and even tried to sell the abortion as a benefit to employees! After this underhanded attack on employees benefits, Duke Energy management can never be trusted again. Employees must always scrutinize every aspect of each policy and program. We must inspect everything for the hook, the catch, the hidden clause, and the fine print that will rob us of our money or our health. The ratepayers, the public, and anyone who does business with Duke Energy should learn from what has happened to those who made the mistake of trusting the company to keep its word.

You used the word “undermine.” Undermine is exactly what Duke Energy did to employees who had served the company for a quarter of a century, only to find that Duke’s promises were written in disappearing ink!

We are not “tilting at windmills” when we encourage employees and the public to investigate the matter. There was a stockholder’s proposal last year to ban MOX fuel from Duke plants. Peter Wylie, great-grandson of a cofounder of the company, has begun unloading his large holdings of stock in the company. In an interview, he said: "It's very scary to me, that if Duke makes one wrong step, not only would potentially millions of people be hurt, but the stock would be worthless."

We have had no visions that foretold of great disasters from using MOX fuel. It just seem obvious that there is more than one side to the issue. If the company has problems with questions being asked about the issue, then that is a flag that even more questions need to be asked.

Bipartisan congressional support does not automatically make the MOX program a flawless one. Those in Congress do not instantly possess deep knowledge of nuclear physics just before a vote. Many only understand money. It called bipartisan, because both sides take it.

Yes, MOX fuel is used in Europe, but not everyone there is sold on it.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission represents no holy grail. If the NRC could prevent all nuclear problems, the Three Mile Island incident would have never occurred. The NRC is stretched and they are downsizing. Last year, The Charlotte Observer published this statement in an article about the NRC: “Federal authorities say structures designed to contain radioactivity during a severe but unlikely reactor accident at Duke's McGuire and Catawba plants are substantially more likely to fail than those at most nuclear plants.” So, it appears that the NRC is aware of some increased risk due to MOX fuel.

You said “MOX fuel is a proven technology. If it were not so, Duke would not be involved in the program.” But you see, you are asking for blind trust in Duke Energy. That is asking too much. We have already been burned financially, we want no other type of burns.

Our position must remain the same: It will behoove everyone to closely examine any program, venture, or policy introduced by Duke Energy.

Now, just how many of the above concerns did you personally cause? None. You are clean. You are like over 99 percent of the other Duke employees. You are just trying to do your job. It is only a few at the very head of the company that have sought to enrich themselves at the expense of ratepayers and employees. We would like to believe that some of them are only guilty by association and that they opposed the events that are causing problems today.

Your letter of concern was very proper to send and you have fulfilled you duty to present the company’s view of the issue to all parties (you probably did not expect an easy sell here). You are commended for your initiative and courage.

Nuclear - Page 3