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The Tennessee Valley Authority will consider using weapons-grade plutonium as nuclear fuel in its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry plants.

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced today that it has signed an interagency agreement with TVA to evaluate the use of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel made from U.S. surplus weapons plutonium.

TVA still must study the concept and get licensing approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the plutonium-rich fuel may be burned at any of its plants. But the pact moves the federal utility closer toward turning old nuclear warheads into an energy source for making electricity.

Proponents of the deal said that converting the plutonium to spent fuel will help the military dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapon-grade plutonium withdrawn from scrapped atomic weapons while potentially giving TVA a cheaper source of fuel.

"The MOX program is an important example of this administration's commitment to irreversibly disposing of surplus nuclear weapons material in a way that realizes the energy value of the material and advances our nuclear nonproliferation agenda," National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator Ken Baker said.

But critics fear that such an approach inappropriately mixes military and civilian use of nuclear materials contrary to the spirit of nonproliferation efforts and creates an undue risk at TVA plants.

"This sends the wrong signal around the world and creates a potentially dangerous and risky program at these TVA plants," said Tom Clements, the Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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