August 2002

Plutonium trail could get longer

Augusta Chronicle, Wednesday, August 28, 2002
By Eric Williamson, Staff Writer

[Posted 29/08/2002]

NORTH AUGUSTA - Officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a public meeting Tuesday night that more miles could be added to the transport path of weapons-grade plutonium slated to be converted to fuel.

The officials met in the city's community center to discuss their ongoing safety evaluation of a proposed mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel fabrication plant at Savannah River Site.

The plant is integral to a 2000 U.S.-Russia agreement for each country to convert 34 tons of weapons plutonium into reactor fuel, rendering it unusable again in arms.

So far, reactors at the Catawba Power Station in South Carolina and the McGuire Power Station in North Carolina have applied to burn the MOX fuel.

But the presentation Tuesday night indicated that the ramifications of using "generic Midwestern" reactors are being considered.

David Brown, a health physicist with the Nuclear Materials Safety & Safeguards division of the NRC, said an increase of hundreds of miles of travel could result in increased radiological exposure to the public or increased opportunities for interference.

"The impacts increase the further you go. It's as simple as, 'We don't know,' so let's come up with the worst-case scenario that will encompass any future possibilities,"' he said.

The additional reactors are needed because scientists say the existing applicants don't have the capacity to safely burn all 34 tons of plutonium by 2019, the slated end of the project.

Glenn Carroll, the organizer for Georgians Against Nuclear Energy, said she has concerns about theft or diversion with the extended transport of MOX fuel.

"Fresh MOX is pure weapons-grade plutonium," she said.

MOX plant designer Duke COGEMA Stone & Webster is slated to submit a revised construction authorization request in October.

It will reflect changes to the plant's design based on the U.S. decision this year to go to an all-MOX program to get rid of the plutonium.

NRC officials said the group will consider in its current review many aspects of the plan already completed at that time.

Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 648-1394.

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