PO Box 88 ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:


January 24, 2001

Don Moniak (803) 644-6953
Kristen Ostling (613) 789-3634
Gordon Edwards (514) 489-5118


Yesterday in a letter to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), twenty-five organizations from three countries urged the CNSC to take immediate action to suspend a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) test--called Parallex--of mixed oxide (MOX) plutonium fuel planned in Canada’s National Research Universal (NRU) reactor. The letter requested a review of quality assurance documentation held at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, U.S.A., and the Bochvar Institute in Moscow, Russia. The letter is available at:

Several instances of questionable work quality within the Los Alamos plutonium fuel fabrication program were cited in the letter, including:

the recent disclosure by Oak Ridge National Laboratory that plutonium fuel pellets made at Los Alamos for another project contained numerous and very large plutonium agglomerations;

Los Alamos’ plutonium fuel program employed equipment deemed unreliable for making suitable plutonium fuel pellets;

Los Alamos encountered difficulties making plutonium fuel pellets for the Parallex test that met technical specifications, and had to reject unspecified amounts of plutonium fuel pellets.

Area resident Ole Hendrickson adds that the age of the NRU reactor aggravates the issue. “We’re worried about what this means for safe operation of the 44-year old NRU reactor,” said Dr. Hendrickson, a researcher for Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area who lives 30 miles from the Chalk River Laboratory. “The authorities should halt the test until questions about the quality of the plutonium fuel are resolved.”

The plutonium fuel test--known as “Parallex”--is the first step towards using plutonium fuel from surplus U.S. and Russian military plutonium in Canadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) nuclear reactors to use MOX fuel made from. The Parallex plutonium fuel is scheduled to be inserted this month into the NRU reactor at the Atomic Energy of Canada’s (AECL) Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory in Renfrew County, Ontario. AECL is the DOE contractor responsible for assembling the fuel bundle and conducting post-irradiation exams.

The CANDU plutonium fuel program originated in the early 1990’s, and DOE spent millions of dollars on the project in spite of major opposition on both sides of the U.S./Canadian border, lukewarm support from Russia, and nonproliferation concerns within DOE. In January 1997 the DOE office of Nuclear Nonproliferation wrote that, “the CANDU alternative would mean encouraging the use of plutonium fuel in a foreign non-nuclear-weapon state which is not currently using plutonium fuels.” Any future efforts to irradiate tens of tons of military plutonium in CANDUs is already in question because the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded in a November 2000 report that the CANDU option is insufficient in terms of preventing future re-use of the plutonium in nuclear weapons.

“Plutonium fuel irradiated in CANDU reactors fails to meet the ‘spent fuel standard’ established by the NAS to deter subsequent removal of the plutonium via reproccessing,” said Tom Clements, Executive Director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington D.C.

“The technical quality assurance problems with the plutonium fuel are another reason the test should be stopped,” added Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout in Ontario. “We remain firmly opposed to the plutonium fuel project on the grounds that it will stimulate a global plutonium economy thereby encouraging increased circulation of plutonium and making it more accessible for nuclear weapons.”

“In addition to stimulating traffic in plutonium worldwide, the use of plutonium fuel in nuclear reactors puts nearby populations at much greater risk of devastating nuclear reactor accidents, particularly if the plutonium fuel is incorrectly manufactured,” said Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. “The strategy of using plutonium fuel is simply invalid,” he added.

“While more important programs suffer from a lack of funding, DOE has spent millions of dollars on a program that will yield symbolic results at best,” added Don Moniak of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.


Southern Anti-Plutonium Campaign