More Plutonium Destined for WIPP?
Public Meetings in Carlsbad 8/24 and Santa Fe 8/26
August 20, 2010
The Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina is proposing to ship up to six metric tons of surplus plutonium from nuclear bombs to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico. Before making that decision, DOE must provide detailed information about the proposal and consider reasonable alternatives in an environmental impact statement. Public 'scoping' meetings will be held in Carlsbad and Santa Fe next week in order for the public to tell DOE what to include in a draft environmental impact statement. The draft statement might be published in 2011 and released for public review, comment and hearings.
The meeting in Carlsbad will be held on Tuesday, August 24 from 5:30 to 8 pm at the Best Western Stevens Inn. The meeting in Santa Fe will be held on Thursday, August 26 from 5:30 to 8 pm on the south side of town at the Courtyard by Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Road.
In the 1990s, DOE completed two environmental impact statements, but neither of them proposed that any of the surplus plutonium would be destined for WIPP. They proposed a two-track solution where the plutonium would be immobilized or made into nuclear reactor fuel.
DOE now plans to supplement those statements in order to reconsider what to do with 13 metric tons of surplus plutonium. DOE is proposing that approximately six metric tons could be prepared for disposal at WIPP and is considering how to handle the other seven metric tons, including through immobilization.
Activists agree that the scope of the new statement must address whether the plutonium will fit into WIPP, which has a capacity for about seven metric tons. Further, it must address why the plutonium should be transported again. Much of the six metric tons was already shipped from the DOE sites at Hanford, Livermore, and Los Alamos to the Savannah River Site. DOE claims that the waste is similar to that at WIPP. Activists question why the plutonium was not shipped directly to WIPP in the first place. [Please see fact sheet below for additional issues.]
Tom Clements, with Friends of the Earth, based in South Carolina, said that they support immobilization. One option in the current statement is to fill small cans with plutonium that is mixed with molten glass and high-level waste. When the small cans are cooled, they are then placed inside a much larger canister that is then filled with the molten high-level waste mixture. He said, "For safety, security, non-proliferation and cost reasons, DOE should abandon the option of making surplus plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel and instead vigorously pursue the immobilization option of mixing it back into the high-level waste from which it came."
For more information or to submit your comments, please visit www.spdsupplementaleis.com.
Submit comments by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org;
by fax to: 1-877-865-0277;
by mail to: Sachiko McAlhany, US DOE, PO Box 2324, Germantown, MD 20874-2324.
Comments are due September 17, 2010.
MORE PLUTONIUM COMING TO WIPP?
by Don Hancock, Southwest Research and Information Center www.sric.org
What's the Issue? The Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina is proposing to send up to 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium from nuclear bombs to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. Before making that decision, DOE must provide detailed information about the proposal and consider reasonable alternatives in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). "Scoping" allows the public to tell DOE what to include in a draft EIS, which might be published in 2011. Public hearings would then be held.
Hasn't there already been an EIS? Yes, two of them. Neither of them proposed that any of the surplus plutonium would come to WIPP.
In 1996, DOE issued the Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Programmatic EIS (Storage and Disposition PEIS). DOE decided on a dual track - plutonium would be immobilized in glass or ceramic and some of the plutonium would be made into plutonium-uranium fuel (Mixed Oxide or MOX) for commercial nuclear power plants. In November 1999, DOE issued the Surplus Plutonium Disposition EIS (SPD EIS). DOE decided that three new facilities would be built at SRS:
(1) MOX fabrication plant for up to 33 metric tons of plutonium,
(2) a Plutonium Pit Disassembly Facility to convert plutonium pits (triggers) from bombs to oxide that could be used for MOX, and
(3) an immobilization plant for approximately 17 metric tons of plutonium.
In 2002, DOE cancelled the immobilization plant, even though some of the plutonium cannot be processed into MOX.
What's the new EIS? DOE plans to supplement the SPD EIS to reconsider what to do with 13 metric tons of surplus plutonium that previously were to be immobilized. DOE is now proposing that approximately 6 metric tons could be prepared for disposal at WIPP and is considering how to handle the other 7 metric tons of plutonium.
What are the scoping issues? Whatever people are concerned about. Some questions are:
1. Would the plutonium fit into WIPP? WIPP is currently planned for more than 7 metric tons of plutonium. The draft EIS must discuss how an additional 6 metric tons would fit. Would WIPP's legal capacity of 6.2 million cubic feet of waste have to be increased? What's the waste form? Would existing requirements for waste characterization have to be changed? How would such additional plutonium affect WIPP's operations? What would be the schedule for bringing the waste? How much would it cost to process and ship the waste?
2. Why shouldn't the plutonium be immobilized at SRS? SRS stores thousands of containers of immobilized high-level waste from the Defense Waste Processing Facility. The draft EIS must discuss how the 6 metric tons of plutonium could be immobilized and stored at SRS.
3. Why transport the plutonium again? Much of the 6 metric tons was shipped from Hanford, WA; Livermore, CA; and Los Alamos, NM to SRS. If this waste is similar to what's at WIPP from those sites (as DOE says), why was it not shipped directly to WIPP? What are the transportation risks and energy requirements for more shipments?
How can comments be submitted to DOE?
* Speak on Thursday, August 26 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Fe, 3347 Cerrillos Road
* E-Mail: email@example.com
* Fax: 1-877-865-0277
* Mail: Sachiko McAlhany, US DOE, PO Box 2324, Germantown, MD 20874-2324.