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Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - 2:02pm

TVA Signs Up for Mixed Oxide Fuel

The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal nuclear operation and a major energy supplier in the South, has tentatively signed on to use mixed oxide (MOX) fuel from a plant under construction near Augusta.

TVA has signed a letter of intent for the fuel, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration, and a final decision will come after the agency evaluates use of the fuel for reactors at the Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants in Tennessee and Alabama, respectively.

The fuel would be made from weapons grade plutonium -- a total of 34 metric tons -- at the Savannah River Site, a massive federal entity near Augusta that processes nuclear materials, and used in commercial nuclear reactors. It is currently under construction, and at $4.8 billion, is one of the most expensive projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

TVA is so far the only agency on board to use the fuel. Duke Energy, which provides power to the Carolinas, did not renew a contract with the MOX plant earlier this year after delays in construction of the plant. The company has said it supports the plant, however, and might consider renewing its plans for the fuel at a later date.

Supporters of the MOX plant say it's a crucial part of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and provides yet another resource for energy. Opponents say the MOX project is too expensive and dangerous; they also have expressed skepticism over whether the fuel will work in the reactors.

Officials expect the plant to start producing fuel in 2016.