DOE Activities Raise Safety Concerns about Plutonium at Three Facilities
According to the Department of Energy (DOE), plans are under way to remove unused plutonium fuel from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The uranium-plutonium fuel, containing around 26.4 kilograms (58.2 pounds) of weapon-grade plutonium, is called “mixed-oxide,” or MOX. In a late-August document, DOE stated that the MOX fuel, produced in France for a program at the Savannah River Site (SRS), would be disposed of as transuranic waste and therefore go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
At present the MOX fuel, in the form of pellets, is stored at LANL’s PF-4 plutonium facility. DOE needs to empty PF-4 to have space for its planned annual production of up to eighty plutonium “pits”, or triggers, for nuclear weapons.
The DOE proposal to dispose of the useless MOX fuel pellets is unprecedented, but has been subjected to only a brief mention in an environmental analysis on pit production. Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, says, “The analysis conducted on the disposal of the plutonium fuel is totally inadequate and a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be conducted before any repackaging and shipment to WIPP. ”
One of Clements’ concerns about security of the disposal of MOX fuel pellets at WIPP is that safeguards on the material would be terminated and the weapon-grade plutonium would receive less monitoring. Clements says, “As the MOX pellets contain enough purified plutonium for perhaps 10 nuclear weapons, steps must be taken to prevent access to the material during both repackaging and disposal.”
Clements believes the material must remain in secure storage at LANL’s PF-4 until a full EIS is prepared by DOE and the proposal is finalized. Please see https://srswatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SRS-Watch-news-on-MOX-LTAs-to-WIPP-September-23-2020.pdf for additional information and references.
Clements also reports a second new development relating to plutonium. In a DOE fact sheet obtained on September 22, 2020, via the Freedom of Information Act, DOE revealed that 11.5 metric tons (25,353 pounds) of plutonium are stored at SRS. DOE stated in a February 2020 letter to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board that the stored plutonium “is not posing any additional risks to communities surrounding the SRS.” Clements concurs with that assessment but says, “It appears DOE has plans to bring an additional 35 metric tons (77,162 pounds) of plutonium into South Carolina for processing, some of which could end up being stranded here as we saw with the failed MOX project.”
Clements observes that plutonium waste disposal activities are less safe than storage. He says, “Those that claim imaginary risks of plutonium storage appear to be silent on the real long-term risks of nuclear processing and radioactive waste disposal activities at SRS.” Please see https://srswatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SRSW-news-on-SRS-plutonium-inventory-Sep-29-2020.pdf for additional information and references.
1. Four Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) teleconference public meetings about the Waste Control Specialists/Interim Storage Partners proposal to bring 40,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants by rail to the west Texas/New Mexico border, five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico. For more information, fact sheets, transportation maps, and talking points: http://nonuclearwasteaqui.org/
a. Th. October 1st from 4 to 7 pm MDT – https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=details&Code=20201097
Teleconference: Bridge Number (888) 989-9268 Pass Code 5300047
Important: Press *1 as soon as you get through, which allows you to talk when it’s your turn.
Meeting number 199 125 5213
b. Tues. October 6th from noon to 3 pm MST https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=details&Code=20201099
c. Th. October 8th from 4 to 7 pm MST https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=details&Code=20201100
d. Th. October 15th from 9 am to noon MST https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=details&Code=20201101
2. Fri. Oct. 2nd – UN General Assembly will hold a High Level Meeting on the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Get Involved! A sample letter you can send to your government encouraging them to participate in the October 2 meeting is available at https://www.unfoldzero.org/26-september-2020/#social Names, emails, and twitter handles are also available.
Tags: Department of Energy, DOE, EIS, environmental analysis, environmental impact statement, Freedom of Information Act, LANL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, mixed oxide, MOX, PF-4, plutonium, Plutonium Facility, Savannah River Site, SRS, SRS Citizens Advisory Board, SRS Watch, Tom Clements, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, WIPP