The PEIS on Storage and Disposition is
a very detailed document.
It sets out multiple options for dealing with the plutonium surplus:
- For MOX, it envisages four main plutonium consumption routes:
use in existing light-water reactors (LWRs), in refurbished currently
partly built LWRs;
in "evolutionary design" LWRs or in CANDU reactors in Canada;
and it rejects twelve alternative reactor possibilities on technical
or nonproliferation grounds.
- For immobilization with radionuclides, it accepts three main options
vitrification in borosilicate glass, with each glass log containing
about 84 kgs of plutonium;
immobilization in ceramic disks, each containing about 4 kgs
of plutonium, or
electrometallurgical treatment. Three other options are rejected,
two on technical grounds;
and underground detonation is rejected as not likely to get a
- Two direct disposal options are judged reasonable: immobilization
or direct emplacement
in deep boreholes. Eleven others are rejected on a variety of
technical or environmental
- The other option is no disposition action and continued storage of
the plutonium stocks.
comply with the US policy generally discouraging the civilian use of
plutonium the MOX fuel fabrication facility would have to meet the following
conditions: its construction would take place at a secured DOE site;
it would be owned by the government; it would be operated only for the
disposition of surplus weapons plutonium; and it would be shut down
at the completion of its disposition mission.
coalition of fourteen opposition groups strongly condemned the DOE for
opting for the MOX option. The DOE argued that using some US military
origin plutonium in MOX fuel would encourage the Russians to do likewise.
According to the energy secretary, of a hundred comments submitted on
the twin track plan, about half opposed MOX and half opposed immobilization
opponent of the FPEIS said in frustration: "Beyond the usual findings
that it is rife with flagrant redundancies; is an incomprehensible maze
of meaningless tables; is so inconsistent with other documents to qualify
as a parallel universe of information; is devoid of the meaningful information
numerous groups/people requested in writing last year; [it] has enough
sharp, unanticipated twists of logic to qualify the writers (and maybe
paid activists) for mental disability...".
so the positions were set for the plutonium debate, which continues
to the present. A national networking coalition of over two hundred
groups formed, under the banner of ÔNIX MOX' ('nix' in German stands
for 'nothing'), with links to opponents of MOX in Europe and Russia.
The coalition has organized regional protest meetings and annual protest
days to focus popular and media attention on the implications of plutonium
use. Typical of the opponents' criticisms are those from the Safe Energy
Communication Council (SECC), a coalition of environmental, consumer
and public-interest groups, in Washington, DC, which says its members
continue to oppose conversion of weapons-grade plutonium to fuel commercial
electricity generation. "Converting weapons plutonium to fuel would
raise unacceptable security threats at the sites where the work would
be done. The sites would immediately become targets for terrorists looking
to get their hands on plutonium. Fundamentally, the idea is wrong because
it centers around presenting plutonium as a commodity rather than a
component in a weapon", SECC says.
DOE continued with rolling public
consultation on the environmental impact and the strategic/industrial
impact of the dual track plutonium disposition program, and is issuing
a series of documents available on DOE's Office of Fissile Materials
Disposition web site (in pdf format) on http://tis.eh.doe.gov/nepa/index.html.
Posted information includes:
- Remarks by Laura
Holgate, DOE's Director of the Office of Fissile Materials Disposition,
at the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (July 1999)
to the Surplus Plutonium Disposition Draft Environmental Impact Statement
Briefing (July 1999)
- Speech by
Laura Holgate to the Sixth Annual International Policy Forum Management
Disposition of Nuclear Weapons Materials (June 1999)
Secretary of Energy Federico Peña appointed Laura Holgate in June 1998.
A former Defense Department official with expertise in nonproliferation,
she took up her position in August 1998.
published by DOE are a series of detailed press notices on ongoing aspects
of the disposition program. They cover technical plutonium management
developments at various DOE labs; and policy and legal developments
such as the Environmental Assessment for the "Parallex Project" fuel
manufacture and shipment (dated September 1999). The Parallex Project,
involving experimental use of US-origin MOX in Canadian reactors at
Chalk River nuclear reservation, has proved to be very controversia
l- particularly with northern communities along the route from the fabrication
plant at Los Alamos to Canada (the details will be covered in a future
Plutonium Investigation issue in spring 2000).
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