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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