FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                      CONTACT: Steven Dolley
Tuesday, April 16, 2002                                                   (202)-822-8444;



Shipments of Plutonium Would Violate Environmental Law, Spark Lawsuits,
And Remain in South Carolina Indefinitely 

            Washington---Nuclear Control 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. 

A spokesman 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 ) 

Moreover, an 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 materials.   

NCI welcomes 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