FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Sunday, August 8, 1999
CONTACT: Paul Leventhal
PLUTONIUM EXPOSURES AT DOE PLANT PROVIDE FAIR WARNING
OF DANGERS AHEAD IN NEW PLAN TO TURN PLUTONIUM INTO FUEL
Washington---Disclosure of massive exposure of workers to plutonium-laced dust at a Department of Energy uranium processing plant provides "fair warning" of the dangers ahead in DOE's current plan to convert plutonium from retired warheads into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants, the Nuclear Control Institute warned today.
"These exposures took place decades ago, but they were covered up until the present day---proof that the bureaucratic culture of the Department of Energy remains dangerously locked in the Cold War era and cannot be depended on to honestly deal with the American people on the hazards of its present-day plan for disposing of warhead plutonium," said NCI President Paul Leventhal. The exposures were reported in today's Washington Post.
DOE is now negotiating an agreement with Russia to convert most of 50 tons of plutonium from retired warheads on each side into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants rather than to dispose of all the extremely radiotoxic material as waste. A new plant is to be built at DOE's Savannah River Site in South Carolina to combine the plutonium with uranium into so-called "mixed-oxide" (MOX) fuel, and the fuel will be run through six power reactors in North and South Carolina and Virginia--- including plants on the outskirts of Washington D.C. and Charlotte N.C.
"DOE has consistently understated both the safety and the security risks of this plan," Leventhal said. "At first, DOE denied there was any appreciable risk to the public in running plutonium MOX fuel through these reactors, but now reluctantly acknowledges our data that about 25 per cent more people will die of cancer in the event of a severe accident with MOX fuel compared with conventional uranium fuel. The risks are event greater in Russia where power reactors fall far short of western safety standards. Beyond the dangers of processing and using MOX fuel, there are also the heightened security and proliferation risks associated with introducing so much warhead plutonium into commerce. DOE also denies these dangers."
Go to NCI's website for more on the DOE MOX plan:
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