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Risk analysis of shipping plutonium pits and mixed oxide fuel
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With the end of the cold war, there no longer seems to be a credible threat of war between nuclear superpowers, with its possible consequence of billions of fatalities. However, the residue of the cold war, most notably the now excess weapons plutonium, has been identified as the source of a number of potential catastrophes. For example, just a single crude nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist organization or rogue state and detonated in even a medium-sized city could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths. For this reason, the ultimate disposition of this excess plutonium has been identified as a national priority. The process of carrying out this disposition itself carries some risks, and even though any conceivable consequences clearly will be much smaller in magnitude than those cited above, U.S. federal law (the National Environmental Protection Act) mandates that such risks must be analyzed. The ability to carry out one type of such an analysis is demonstrated in this thesis. Specifically, one possible option that has been identified for disposition of excess U.S. weapons plutonium is the transformation into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, that then would be used as fuel in a commercial nuclear power plant. Any such process will involve the transportation of the MOX fuel from the MOX fuel fabrication facility to the nuclear power plant, and possibly transportation of the plutonium from a storage site to the fuel fabrication facility. This thesis is intended to demonstrate the capability to analyze the risks associated with such transportation campaigns. The primary tool used for these analyses was RADTRAN, a code developed by Sandia National Laboratories for evaluating risk associated with the transportation of radioactive materials. Two sample scenarios were explored relative to the transformation of plutonium pits to MOX fuel. First, the pits would be converted to MOX fuel at a fuel fabrication facility located either at the Pantex Plant or the Savannah River Site (SRS), and then the MOX fuel would be ultimately shipped to a final destination of a commercial power plant, the Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona. For the scenario of placing the MOX fuel fabrication facility at SRS, pits would need to be shipped from Pantex to SRS and then the MOX fuel would be shipped to Palo Verde. The total number of expected fatalities over a 25 year campaign duration for this scenario would be 1.06, with 0. 1 73 fatalities resulting from latent cancer fatalities due to radiation exposure and 0.89 resulting from traffic accidents. For the placement of the MOX fuel fabrication facility at Pantex, only the MOX fuel would need to be transported from one facility to another, in this case from Pantex to Palo Verde. The total fatalities for this scenario over 25 years would be 0.413, resulting from 5.29 x 10-2 latent cancer fatalities and 0.36 traffic accident fatalities. The maximum exposed individual along any of the three routes would receive 1.0 X 10-5 rem per year or 0.25 mrem over 25 years.
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Caldwell, Amy Baker (1997). Risk analysis of shipping plutonium pits and mixed oxide fuel. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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