USA - Plutonium Investigation n°17-18

January/February 2000                             Editorial

The Plutonium Industry or The Millenium Bug

What a turn of the century! Storms over France lead to power cuts for almost 3,5 million Frenchmen, over half a million spend New Year's Eve in the dark. Japan is struggling with the aftermath of the country's worst nuclear accident. It is true, the safety conditions at the Tokai-mura fuel fabrication plant were closer to those of a noodle soup bar than what you would expect in a nuclear plant. And the UK public is stunned by revelations about falsification of quality control data during the fabrication of plutonium fuels.

Latter problem brings us back to the issue. Four out of five working shifts were involved in the unprecedented Sellafield case of data falsification on fuel pellet specifications. Fuel assemblies for Japan, Switzerland and Germany are concerned. The Japanese ask the operator BNFL to take back fuel which had just been shipped to Japan at high cost on board an armed cargo and "Germany casts doubt on BNFL contracts", as the Financial Times puts it in big letters on the front page on 22 February 2000.

And the U.S. in all this? The US (administration) has always been remarkably ignorant on the dynamics of European (nuclear) issues. In 1995, President Clinton announced the end of the military plutonium production and declared 42.1 metric tons of plutonium in "excess" of military needs. Two years later, the Department of Energy issued it's "dual track" decision: part of the surplus shall be used in the form of MOX, part shall be immobilized. Five years after Clinton's declaration no plutonium, beyond testing quantities, has yet been immobilized or fabricated into MOX. In the meantime the plutonium companies BNFL and COGEMA increased European plutonium stocks to unprecedented levels, significantly higher than the US and Russian military stockpiles combined. The MOX part of the US decision has significantly helped BNFL and COGEMA to make their case. For how long?

Happy New Year!

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