FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Steven Dolley
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
DEFYING SOUTH CAROLINA OPPOSITION,
DOE WILL SHIP ROCKY FLATS PLUTONIUM
TO SAVANNAH RIVER
Shipments of Plutonium Would Violate Environmental Law, Spark
And Remain in South Carolina Indefinitely
Institute today condemned a decision by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to
begin shipping several tons of highly contaminated plutonium from DOEs
Rocky Flats facility in Colorado to the Departments Savannah River Site in
South Carolina, over the strong opposition of South Carolina Governor Jim
Hodges. DOE said the shipments could begin as early as mid-May.
Energy Secretary Abraham
appears willing to promise the people of South Carolina anything, provided DOE
is not legally bound to keep its promises, said Dr. Edwin Lyman, scientific
director and incoming president of Nuclear Control Institute, a Washington,
DC-based nuclear non-proliferation research and advocacy center. Given the
Departments ill-considered decision to kill off its immobilization
program---which offered the cheapest, safest and fastest way to dispose of
excess plutonium---it is highly likely that tons of Rocky Flats plutonium will
be stranded at the Savannah River Site for years or even decades.
for Governor Hodges suggested yesterday that the state of South Carolina is
likely to sue DOE over its decision to begin shipments to Savannah River.
Governor Hodges opposes the shipments and has pledged to deploy state troopers
or even lie down in the road personally to stop them. He has sought legally
binding obligations from DOE that the plutonium will not remain indefinitely in
South Carolina. In an April 12 letter, Abraham promised Hodges that DOE would
incorporate assurances into a revised Record of Decision for the Rocky Flats
plutonium, but refused to enter into a consent decree with the state that would
give his pledge the binding force of a court order. Then, in an April 15
letter, Abraham notified Hodges that the plutonium shipments from Rocky Flats to
Savannah River would begin over the governors objections.
In January, DOE cancelled a
program to develop a plant to immobilize surplus plutonium by mixing it with
high-level waste in preparation for direct disposal. DOE now plans to fabricate
almost all of its surplus plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) for commercial
nuclear-power reactors. Because the option of using nearly all surplus
plutonium (including plutonium contaminated with waste) in MOX fuel was never
assessed in previous DOE environmental analyses, NCI wrote to Abraham in
February calling for a supplemental environmental impact statement before any
shipments proceed. DOE never envisioned an all-MOX approach when it conducted
the previous analyses. To proceed with these shipments without a supplemental
environmental impact statement would violate both federal law and sound
environmental policy, according to Dr. Lyman. (NCIs letter to Abraham is
available on its website at
unknown but substantial amount of the Rocky Flats plutonium is now considered by
DOE to be unsuitable for use in MOX fuel. In the wake of the
cancellation of the immobilization program, DOE has no plans and no appropriate
technology to dispose of this orphan plutonium, Lyman added. If Secretary
Abraham knows when or if this plutonium would ultimately leave Rocky Flats and
what would be done with it, he hasnt told anyone.
In his April 12 letter to
Governor Hodges, Secretary Abraham claimed that judicial intervention into the
pending shipments would be wholly irresponsible, especially at a time when we
have clear evidence that terrorist groups are seeking access to nuclear
the Secretarys overdue acknowledgement of the real and imminent danger of
nuclear terrorism using stolen or diverted plutonium, Dr. Lyman noted.
However, DOE should acknowledge that MOX-fuel programs, both here and abroad,
magnify rather than reduce the danger of nuclear terrorism. Plutonium
fuel-cycle facilities offer pathways for theft or diversion, and MOX shipments
are in danger of being attacked or hijacked. Like hospitals that spread disease
in the days before modern hygiene, MOX fuel programs spread rather than cure the
hazards of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.
DOEs MOX program has been
plagued by escalating costs, legal challenges, and delays. Even Duke Power, the
utility selected to use the MOX fuel in its McGuire and Catawba reactors,
testified in February in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proceeding that
the future use of MOX fuel at McGuire and Catawba reactors is not a certainty.
Substantial uncertainties and contingencies continued to surround the program.
NRC agreed in an April 12 ruling that [t]he mere possibility that Duke might
in the future seek to amend its reactors licenses to permit MOX use is
speculative by its very nature.
Duke Power testified under
oath that its plans to use MOX fuel are speculative and highly uncertain, and
NRCs ruling agreed with them. How, then, can Secretary Abraham credibly
promise South Carolina that this plutonium will not remain indefinitely at
Savannah River? Dr. Lyman commented.
More information about
the dangers of plutonium and
MOX fuel are available on NCIs website at