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[cdn-nucl-l] [Fwd: What to do with Plutonium]
Commission Staff Calls Risks of Proposed Plutonium Conversion Plant
January 31, 2005 - By H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The government moved a step closer Friday to gaining
approval to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium by turning
it into a less dangerous fuel for commercial power reactors.
The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended that the
commission approve licenses for building a plant at the federal
Savannah River complex in South Carolina where the plutonium would be
processed into a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.
Some environmentalists and nuclear nonproliferation advocates have
opposed the conversion plans, arguing plutonium should not be used to
make commercial reactor fuel and that, instead, the weapons-grade
material should be encased in glass and buried.
While the NRC staff acknowledged a severe accident at the proposed
facility could cause additional latent cancer fatalities among workers
and the public, it said "the likelihood of such an accident occurring
is expected to be very low, highly unlikely."
"The overall benefits of the proposed MOX facility outweigh its
disadvantages and cost," the NRC staff concluded in a final
environmental impact report on the proposed project. The commission is
expected to decide in the coming months whether to issue a
construction license -- and later, an operating permit -- for the
The conversion to mixed-oxide fuel is a key part of the Bush
administration's effort to safeguard the tons of excess weapons-grade
plutonium held by both the United States and Russia and reduce the
risks of the material being obtained by terrorists or a rogue state.
Under an agreement with Russia, the United States plans to blend 34
tons of U.S. plutonium no longer needed for warheads with depleted
uranium so it can no longer be used in a bomb and can be used in a
commercial power reactor. Russia would also build a conversion plant
for 34 tons of its excess plutonium.
The Energy Department had hoped to begin building the conversion plant
at Savannah River later this year, but construction has been held up
because of complications that have delayed construction of a facility
Tom Clements, an adviser to Greenpeace International on nuclear
issues, called the NRC staff report "woefully inadequate" and
criticized its dismissal of health and environmental risks should
there be a release of radiation.
"They have to plan for the eventuality that there is some kind of
accident," said Clements. "Basically the have just waved it off as
something being acceptable."
The NRC staff report said the primary benefit of the conversion
program would be the reduction in the amount of excess plutonium under
storage. It concluded that converting the material to a
reactor-suitable mixed-oxide fuel is safer than continued storage of
The report said the routine operation of a conversion plant and
proposed support facilities would pose virtually no radiological risk
to people or the environment within 50 miles of the complex.
But it acknowledged an accidental release of radioactive tritium from
a plutonium disassembly facility to be built as part of the project
could cause between three and 100 additional latent cancer fatalities,
with higher estimates if contaminated food is eaten.
"However, it is regarded as highly unlikely that such an accident
would occur and the risk to any population, including low-income and
minority communities, is considered to be low," concluded the NRC
Source: Associated Press
Randal Leavitt gnupg public key: bbbad04d
Registered User 267646 at http://counter.li.org/