Second quarter of 2002

Shipping Parts of the US Military Plutonium Disposition Program to Europe?

WISE-Paris, 21June 2002

[Posted 23/06/2002]

A new report issued by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) “casts doubt on the goals, procedures and legality(1) of US Department of Energy’s (DOE) program of military plutonium disposition. Not only British military plutonium instead of US plutonium of dismantled warheads could be used to fabricate the first test fuel assemblies, but also plutonium oxide powder could be transported from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the P0 MOX plant in Belgium for manufacturing MOX fuel lead test assemblies.

In fact, “a lack of adequate material from the 34 metric tonnes declared excess(2) could be circumvented by a material swap between US and United Kingdom. Moreover; failures as well as equipment problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory in attempts to fabricate MOX test fuel led Duke, COGEMA, Stone & Webster (DCS) to submit to DOE an Alternative Qualification Study, as of 31 January 2001, involving fuel fabrication at one of three MOX fabrication facilities in France and Belgium. If the swap and the transportation did happen, questions of validity of US-DOE’s Lead Test Assembly program, (3) which has been delayed for one year already, could arise. Even in the case of an NRC approval, the fact that non-US material as well as non-US facilities would be used to qualify the lead test assemblies cast doubt on the DCS joint venture capacity to accomplish the plutonium disposition program and the timeframe in which it would be realized.

BREDL revelations, (4) based on information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, shadow COGEMA’s efforts to develop foreign activities, and especially exportation of its ‘savoir faire’ in the plutonium business. Political, technical, and regulatory complexities linked to US nuclear policy constitute in fact a far less protective environment than the French framework in which COGEMA’s plutonium activities were able to develop. The excess transportation requirements alone, of which the possible transatlantic shipment of 115 kilograms of plutonium oxide powder, (5) could be far more complicated than the common French transport licensing.

The plutonium transportation issue has turned into a particularly sensitive case in the US since South Carolina Governor, Jim Hodges, issued an executive order as of 14 June 2002 and sent state police to the government's Savannah River Site weapons installation near the Georgia state line to stop any vehicles carrying plutonium. (6) The order related to weapons plutonium that is also part of the US disposition program with cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats installations and transporting the military plutonium to the Savannah River Site. (7)

However, on 18 June 2002, U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie prohibited Gov. Jim Hodges from blocking government shipments of the bomb-grade plutonium to South Carolina that could begin as early as this weekend. The governor said he would abide by the judge's order. “Against our will, the blockade is over,” Hodges said. “I don't apologize for our efforts, our suit or our blockade.(8) Currie rejected Hodges’ arguments that the Energy Department was violating federal environmental policy, allowing for shipments to begin immediately. Hodges has taken his case to a federal appeals court.

The 19 April 2002 decision to definitely abandon the “dual track” approach for military plutonium disposition, taken by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), restricted the initial US ambition to a “one way only” program, and is now encountering what could become legal and political dead end.


  1. BREDL Press Release, «Report Reveals Extensive International Shipments of Plutonium », 11 June 2002
  2. Lawrence Losh. Framatome ANP. Foreign Travel Trip Report. Report Date March 4, 2001, for Travel to Bristol Abbey Wood, United Kingdom on 2/27/01 to 3/3/01. Obtained by BREDL through FOIA
  3. The program is an essential component of the overall «Fuel Qualification Plan » to obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certification and approval
  4. BREDL, «Plutonium Management Background Paper », 11 June 2002 (
  5. As well as the transport of the fabricated MOX and the associated fabrication scraps back to Los Alamos
  6. Office of Governor Jim Hodges, «Governor Hodges Signs Executive Order, Declares State of Emergency over plutonium Shipments », State of South Carolina, 14 June 2002. See WISE-Paris news «South Carolina Governor’s decision to ban plutonium shipments canceled », 21 June 2002, at
  7. For more details, see WISE-Paris news «U-Turn of the US Military Plutonium Disposition Program », 14 May 2002, at
  8. JUDGE ORDERS S.C. GOV. ON PLUTONIUM, Associated Press, 18 June 2002, at

Back to contents